Much of the philosophical literature on causation has focused on the concept of actual causation, sometimes called token causation. In particular, it is this notion of actual causation that many philosophical theories of causation have attempted to capture.2 In this paper, we address the question: what purpose does this concept serve? As we shall see in the next section, one does not need this concept for purposes of prediction or rational deliberation. What then could the purpose be? We will argue (...) that one can gain an important clue here by looking at the ways in which causal judgments are shaped by people‘s understanding of norms. (shrink)
In the Sleeping Beauty problem, Beauty is uncertain whether the outcome of a certain coin toss was heads or tails. One argument suggests that her degree of belief in heads should be 1/3, while a second suggests that it should be 1/2. Prima facie, the argument for 1/2 appears to be stronger. I offer a diachronic Dutch Book argument in favor of 1/3. Even for those who are not routinely persuaded by diachronic Dutch Book arguments, this one has some important (...) morals. (shrink)
an observation to formulate a theory, it is no surprise that the resulting theory accurately captures that observation. However, when the theory makes a novel prediction—when it predicts an observation that was not used in its formulation—this seems to provide more substantial confirmation of the theory. This paper presents a new approach to the vexed problem of understanding the epistemic difference between prediction and accommodation. In fact, there are several problems that need to be disentangled; in all of them, the (...) key is the concept of overfitting. We float the hypothesis that accommodation is a defective methodology only when the methods used to accommodate the data fail to guard against the risk of overfitting. We connect our analysis with the proposals that other philosophers have made. We also discuss its bearing on the conflict between instrumentalism and scientific realism. Introduction Predictivisms—a taxonomy Observations Formulating the problem What might Annie be doing wrong? Solutions Observations explained Mayo on severe tests The miracle argument and scientific realism Concluding comments. (shrink)
Recent work in psychology and experimental philosophy has shown that judgments of actual causation are often influenced by consideration of defaults, typicality, and normality. A number of philosophers and computer scientists have also suggested that an appeal to such factors can help deal with problems facing existing accounts of actual causation. This article develops a flexible formal framework for incorporating defaults, typicality, and normality into an account of actual causation. The resulting account takes actual causation to be both graded and (...) comparative. We then show how our account would handle a number of standard cases. 1 Introduction2 Causal Models3 The HP Definition of Actual Causation4 The Problem of Isomorphism5 Defaults, Typicality, and Normality6 Extended Causal Models7 Examples7.1 Omissions7.2 Knobe effects7.3 Causes versus background conditions7.4 Bogus prevention7.5 Causal chains7.6 Legal doctrines of intervening causes7.7 Pre-emption and short circuits8 Conclusion. (shrink)
Following Dretske (1977), there has been a considerable body of literature on the role of contrastive stress in causal claims. Following van Fraassen (1980), there has been a considerable body of literature on the role of contrastive stress in explanations and explanation-requesting why-questions. Amazingly, the two bodies of literature have remained almost entirely disjoint. With an understanding of the contrastive nature of ordinary causal claims, and of the linguistic roles of contrastive stress, it is possible to provide a unified account (...) of both phenomena. I provide such an account from within the framework of a probabilistic theory of causation. Relations of screening-off, long familiar to researchers in probabilistic causality, play a central role in this account. (shrink)
One of the motivations for Salmon's (1984) causal theory of explanation was the explanatory irrelevance exhibited by many arguments conforming to Hempel's covering-law models of explanation. However, the nexus of causal processes and interactions characterized by Salmon is not rich enough to supply the necessary conception of explanatory relevance. Salmon's (1994) revised theory, which is briefly criticized on independent grounds, fares no better. There is some possibility that the two-tiered structure of explanation described by Salmon (1984) may be pressed into (...) service, but more work would have to be done. Ironically, Salmon's difficulties are similar to those suffered by his seventeenth-century predecessors. (shrink)
There are many ways of attaching two objects together: for example, they can be connected, linked, tied or bound together; and the connection, link, tie or bind can be made of chain, rope, or cement. Every one of these binding methods has been used as a metaphor for causation. What is the real significance of these metaphors? They express a commitment to a certain way of thinking about causation, summarized in the following thesis: ‘In any concrete situation, there is an (...) objective fact of the matter as to whether two events are in fact bound by the causal relation. It is the aim of philosophical inquiry to analyze this objective relation.’ Through a variety of examples, I hope to cast doubt on this seemingly innocuous thesis. The problem lies not with the word ‘objective’, but with the word ‘the’. The goal of a philosophical account of causation should not be to capture the causal relation, but rather to capture the many ways in which the events of the world can be bound together. 1 The metaphors 2 Unpacking the metaphors 3 Theories of causation 4 The two assassins 5 The birth control pills 6 The smoker-protector gene 7 The bicycle thief 8 Further examples 8.1 Indeterminism 8.2 Probability-lowering causes 8.3 Parts vs wholes 8.4 Symmetric overdetermination 8.5 Delayers 8.6 Causation by omission 8.7 Double prevention/disconnection 8.8 Preemptive prevention 8.9 Quantitative variables 9 Conclusion. (shrink)
Hall [(2007), Philosophical Studies, 132, 109–136] offers a critique of structural equations accounts of actual causation, and then offers a new theory of his own. In this paper, I respond to Hall’s critique, and present some counterexamples to his new theory. These counterexamples are then diagnosed.
Clark Glymour, together with his students Peter Spirtes and Richard Scheines, did pioneering work on graphical causal models . One of the central advances provided by these models is the ability to simply represent the effects of interventions. In an elegant paper , Glymour and his student Christopher Meek applied these methods to problems in decision theory. One of the morals they drew was that causal decision theory should be understood in terms of interventions. I revisit their proposal, and extend (...) the analysis by showing how graphical causal models might be used to address decision problems that arise in “exotic” situations, such as those involving crystal balls or time travelers. (shrink)
“Probabilistic Causation” designates a group of theories that aim to characterize the relationship between cause and effect using the tools of probability theory. The central idea behind these theories is that causes change the probabilities of their effects. This article traces developments in probabilistic causation, including recent developments in causal modeling. A variety of issues within, and objections to, probabilistic theories of causation will also be discussed.
I advance a new theory of causal relevance, according to which causal claims convey information about conditional probability functions. This theory is motivated by the problem of disjunctive factors, which haunts existing probabilistic theories of causation. After some introductory remarks, I present in Section 3 a sketch of Eells's (1991) probabilistic theory of causation, which provides the framework for much of the discussion. Section 4 explains how the problem of disjunctive factors arises within this framework. After rejecting three proposed solutions, (...) I offer in Section 6 a new approach to causation that avoids the problem. Decision-theoretic considerations also support the new approach. Section 8 develops the consequences of the new theory for causal explanation. The resulting theory of causal explanation incorporates the new insights while respecting important work on scientific explanation by Salmon (1971), Railton (1981), and Humphreys (1989). My conclusions are enumerated in Section 9. (shrink)
A number of recent papers have criticized what they call the dynamical interpretation of evolutionary theory found in Elliott Sober’s The Nature of Selection. Sober argues that we can think of evolutionary theory as a theory of forces analogous to Newtonian mechanics. These critics argue that there are several important disanalogies between evolutionary and Newtonian forces: Unlike evolutionary forces, Newtonian forces can be considered in isolation, they have source laws, they compose causally in a straightforward way, and they are intermediate (...) causes in causal chains. Here we defend and extend the forces analogy by arguing that each of these criticisms is based on a misunderstanding of Newtonian forces. Our discussion also has the interesting consequence that natural selection turns out to be more similar to forces such as friction and elastic forces rather than the more canonical gravitation. (shrink)
This article describes research pursued by members of the McDonnell Collaborative on Causal Learning. A number of members independently converged on a similar idea: one of the central functions served by claims of actual causation is to highlight patterns of dependence that are highly portable into novel contexts. I describe in detail how this idea emerged in my own work and also in that of the psychologist Tania Lombrozo. In addition, I use the occasion to reflect on the nature of (...) interdisciplinary collaboration in general and on the interaction between philosophy and psychology in particular. (shrink)
Judea Pearl (2000) was the first to propose a definition of actual causation using causal models. A number of authors have suggested that an adequate account of actual causation must appeal not only to causal structure but also to considerations of normality. In Halpern and Hitchcock (2011), we offer a definition of actual causation using extended causal models, which include information about both causal structure and normality. Extended causal models are potentially very complex. In this study, we show how it (...) is possible to achieve a compact representation of extended causal models. (shrink)
There is a tradition, tracing back to Kant, of recasting metaphysical questions as questions about the utility of a conceptual scheme, linguistic framework, or methodological rule for achieving some particular end. Following in this tradition, I propose a ‘means-ends metaphysics ’, in which one rigorously demonstrates the suitability of some conceptual framework for achieving a specified goal. I illustrate this approach using a debate about the nature of events. Specifically, the question is whether the time at which an event occurs (...) is an essential property of that event. I argue that this question is naturally transformed into a question about the methodology of causal modeling. In this new framework, the question concerns what kind of variables to use to represent the effects of potential interventions on a system. This question has a demonstrably correct answer, which sheds new light on the original question. (shrink)
It is a commonplace that in philosophy, intuitions supply evidence for and against philosophical theories. Recent work in experimental philosophy has brought to bear the intuitions of philosophically naïve subjects in a number of different ways. One line of response to this work has been to claim that philosophers have expertise that privileges their intuitive judgments, and allows them to disregard the judgments of non-experts. This expertise is supposed to be analogous to the expertise of the mathematician or the physicist. (...) This paper critically evaluates this appeal to philosophical expertise. (shrink)
Jonathan Schaffer introduced a new type of causal structure called 'trumping'. According to Schaffer, trumping is a species of causal preemption. Both Schaffer and I have argued that causation has a contrastive structure. In this paper, I analyze the structure of trumping cases from the perspective of contrastive causation, and argue that the case is much more complex than it first appears. Nonetheless, there is little reason to regard trumping as a species of causal preemption.
We provide a solution to the well-known “Shooting-Room” paradox, developed by John Leslie in connection with his Doomsday Argument. In the “Shooting-Room” paradox, the death of an individual is contingent upon an event that has a 1/36 chance of occurring, yet the relative frequency of death in the relevant population is 0.9. There are two intuitively plausible arguments, one concluding that the appropriate subjective probability of death is 1/36, the other that this probability is 0.9. How are these two values (...) to be reconciled? We show that only the first argument is valid for a standard, countably additive probability distribution. However, both lines of reasoning are legitimate if probabilities are non-standard. The subjective probability of death rises from 1/36 to 0.9 by conditionalizing on an event that is not measurable, or whose probability is zero. Thus we can sometimes meaningfully ascribe conditional probabilities even when the event conditionalized upon is not of positive finite (or even infinitesimal) measure. (shrink)
Carter and Leslie (1996) have argued, using Bayes's theorem, that our being alive now supports the hypothesis of an early 'Doomsday'. Unlike some critics (Eckhardt 1997), we accept their argument in part: given that we exist, our existence now indeed favors 'Doom sooner' over 'Doom later'. The very fact of our existence, however, favors 'Doom later'. In simple cases, a hypothetical approach to the problem of 'old evidence' shows that these two effects cancel out: our existence now yields no information (...) about the coming of Doom. More complex cases suggest a move from countably additive to non-standard probability measures. (shrink)
It is widely believed that many of the competing accounts of scientific explanation have ramifications which are relevant to the scientific realism debate. I claim that the two issues are orthogonal. For definiteness, I consider Cartwright's argument that causal explanations secure belief in theoretical entities. In Section I, van Fraassen's anti-realism is reviewed; I argue that this anti-realism is, prima facie, consistent with a causal account of explanation. Section II reviews Cartwright's arguments. In Section III, it is argued that causal (...) explanations do not license the sort of inferences to theoretical entities that would embarass the anti-realist. Section IV examines the epistemic commitments involved in accepting a causal explanation. Section V presents my conclusions: contra Cartwright, the anti-realist may incorporate a causal account of explanation into his vision of science in an entirely natural way. (shrink)
A simple counterfactual theory of causation fails because of problems with cases of preemption. This might lead us to expect that preemption will raise problems for counterfactual theories of other concepts that have a causal dimension. Indeed, examples are easy to find. But there is one case where we do not find this. Several versions of causal decision theory are formulated using counterfactuals. This might lead us to expect that these theories will yield the wrong recommendations in cases of preemption. (...) But they do not. The explanation, I argue, is that the ‘cause’ that has been the target of counterfactual analyses is a specific relation, ‘actual causation’, that is not needed for prospective deliberation. A simple counterfactual theory of causation seems to capture the notion of cause needed for causal decision theory. This shows, in opposition to some critics, that counterfactual theories of causation are not barking up the wrong tree. (shrink)
There are a wide variety of theories of causation available in the philosophical literature. For the philosopher working in philosophy of mind, who makes use of causal concepts, what is to be made of this embarrassment of riches? By considering a variety of theoretical perspectives, she can discover which principles or assumptions about causation are robust, and which hold only within particular frameworks. In particular, she should be suspicious when the different premises in an argument can only be made true (...) by shifting between different theories of causation. I illustrate these themes using the causal exclusion argument. (shrink)
In Belief and the Will, van Fraassen employed a diachronic Dutch Book argument to support a counterintuitive principle called Reflection. There and subsequently van Fraassen has put forth Reflection as a linchpin for his views in epistemology and the philosophy of science, and for the voluntarism (first-person reports of subjective probability are undertakings of commitments) that he espouses as an alternative to descriptivism (first-person reports of subjective probability are merely self-descriptions). Christensen and others have attacked Reflection, taking it to have (...) unpalatable consequences. We prescind from the question of the cogency of diachronic Dutch Book arguments, and focus on Reflection's proper interpretation. We argue that Reflection is not as counterintuitive as it appears — that once interpreted properly the status of the counterexamples given by Christensen and others is left open. We show also that descriptivism can make sense of Reflection, while voluntarism is not especially well suited to do so. (shrink)
The conserved quantity theory of causation aims to analyze causal processes and interactions in terms of conserved quantities. In order to be successful, the theory must correctly distinguish between causal processes and interactions, on the one hand, and pseudoprocesses and mere intersections on the other.Moreover, it must do this while satisfying two further criteria: it must avoid circularity; and the appeal to conserved quantities must not be redundant. I argue that the theory is not successful in meeting these criteria.
We introduce a family of rules for adjusting one’s credences in response to learning the credences of others. These rules have a number of desirable features. 1. They yield the posterior credences that would result from updating by standard Bayesian conditionalization on one’s peers’ reported credences if one’s likelihood function takes a particular simple form. 2. In the simplest form, they are symmetric among the agents in the group. 3. They map neatly onto the familiar Condorcet voting results. 4. They (...) preserve shared agreement about independence in a wide range of cases. 5. They commute with conditionalization and with multiple peer updates. Importantly, these rules have a surprising property that we call synergy — peer testimony of credences can provide mutually supporting evidence raising an individual’s credence higher than any peer’s initial prior report. At first, this may seem to be a strike against them. We argue, however, that synergy is actually a desirable feature and the failure of other updating rules to yield synergy is a strike against them. (shrink)
Introduction: One of the most influential theories of scientific explanation to have emerged in the past two decades is Salmon's causal/mechanical theory (Salmon 1984). According to this account, scientific explanations describe a network of causal processes and interactions. In this paper, I will use an example from evolutionary biology to argue that the causal nexus, as characterized by Salmon, is not rich enough to account for many causal explanations in the sciences.