In Defense of a Causal Requirement on Explanation

In Phyllis McKay Illari Federica Russo (ed.), Causality in the Sciences. Oxford University Press. pp. 470 (2011)
Garrett Pendergraft
Pepperdine University
Causalists about explanation claim that to explain an event is to provide information about the causal history of that event. Some causalists also endorse a proportionality claim, namely that one explanation is better than another insofar as it provides a greater amount of causal information. In this chapter I consider various challenges to these causalist claims. There is a common and influential formulation of the causalist requirement – the ‘Causal Process Requirement’ – that does appear vulnerable to these anti-causalist challenges, but I argue that they do not give us reason to reject causalism entirely. Instead, these challenges lead us to articulate the causalist requirement in an alternative way. This alternative articulation incorporates some of the important anti-causalist insights without abandoning the explanatory necessity of causal information. For example, proponents of the ‘equilibrium challenge’ argue that the best available explanations of the behaviour of certain dynamical systems do not appear to provide any causal information. I respond that, contrary to appearances, these equilibrium explanations are fundamentally causal, and I provide a formulation of the causalist thesis that is immune to the equilibrium challenge. I then show how this formulation is also immune to the ‘epistemic challenge’ – thus vindicating (a properly formulated version of) the causalist thesis.
Keywords Scientific explanation  Causation  Equilibrium explanation  Causal explanation  David Lewis  Wesley Salmon  Elliott Sober  James Woodward  Michael Strevens  Alan Garfinkel
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