Ceteris Paribus Hedges: Causal Voodoo that Works

Journal of Philosophy 109 (11):652-675 (2012)

Michael Strevens
New York University
What do the words "ceteris paribus" add to a causal hypothesis, that is, to a generalization that is intended to articulate the consequences of a causal mechanism? One answer, which looks almost too good to be true, is that a ceteris paribus hedge restricts the scope of the hypothesis to those cases where nothing undermines, interferes with, or undoes the effect of the mechanism in question, even if the hypothesis's own formulator is otherwise unable to specify fully what might constitute such undermining or interference. I will propose a semantics for causal generalizations according to which ceteris paribus hedges deliver on this promise, because the truth conditions for a causal generalization depend in part on the—perhaps unknown—nature of the mechanism whose consequences it is intended to describe. It follows that the truth conditions for causal hypotheses are typically opaque to the very scientists who formulate and test them.
Keywords Ceteris paribus
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DOI 10.5840/jphil20121091138
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References found in this work BETA

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Citations of this work BETA

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