Philosophical Studies 175 (4):885-902 (2018)

The aim of this paper is to determine whether and to what extent Woodward’s interventionist theory of causation is variable relative. In an influential review, Strevens has accused Woodward’s account of a damaging form of variable relativity, according to which obviously false causal claims can be made true by choosing a depleted variable set. Following McCain, I show that Strevens’ objection doesn’t succeed. However, Woodward also wants to avoid another kind of variable relativity, according to which it can be true that X is a cause of Y in one set of background conditions, but false in another. I show that Woodward’s account is problematically overpermissive, unless there are restrictions on the values that certain variables can take. I formulate a modified account that makes these restrictions explicit, then use it to argue that Woodward’s attempt to avoid relativity to background conditions is misguided. On the best interpretation of the interventionist theory, causal claims are assessed relative to a particular kind of variable set. Thus, I conclude that the theory should be understood as variable relative, in a specific, unproblematic sense.
Keywords Causation
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11098-017-0897-2
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,436
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - Cambridge University Press.
Contrastive Causation.Jonathan Schaffer - 2005 - Philosophical Review 114 (3):327-358.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Actual Causation.Enno Fischer - 2021 - Dissertation, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Interventionism Defended.Kevin McCain - 2015 - Logos and Episteme 6 (1):61-73.
The Problem of Variable Choice.James Woodward - 2016 - Synthese 193 (4):1047-1072.
Relativistic Hidden Variable Theories?Frank Arntzenius - 1994 - Erkenntnis 41 (2):207 - 231.
Interventionism and Higher-Level Causation.Vera Hoffman-Kolss - 2014 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 28 (1):49-64.
Causation, Intervention and Agency—Woodward on Menzies and Price.Huw Price - 2017 - In Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock & Huw Price (eds.), Making a Difference. Oxford, UK: pp. 73-98.
Koch’s Postulates: An Interventionist Perspective.Lauren N. Ross & James F. Woodward - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 59:35-46.
Review of M Aking Things Happen.Eric Hiddleston - 2005 - Philosophical Review 114 (4):545-547.


Added to PP index

Total views
46 ( #248,249 of 2,519,866 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #205,232 of 2,519,866 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes