Woodward's long awaited book is an attempt to construct a comprehensive account of causation explanation that applies to a wide variety of causal and explanatory claims in different areas of science and everyday life. The book engages some of the relevant literature from other disciplines, as Woodward weaves together examples, counterexamples, criticisms, defenses, objections, and replies into a convincing defense of the core of his theory, which is that we can analyze causation by appeal to the notion of manipulation.
This paper attempts to elucidate three characteristics of causal relationships that are important in biological contexts. Stability has to do with whether a causal relationship continues to hold under changes in background conditions. Proportionality has to do with whether changes in the state of the cause “line up” in the right way with changes in the state of the effect and with whether the cause and effect are characterized in a way that contains irrelevant detail. Specificity is connected both to (...) David Lewis’ notion of “influence” and also with the extent to which a causal relation approximates to the ideal of one cause–one effect. Interrelations among these notions and their possible biological significance are also discussed. (shrink)
The past few decades have seen an explosion of research on causal reasoning in philosophy, computer science, and statistics, as well as descriptive work in psychology. In Causation with a Human Face, James Woodward integrates these lines of research and argues for an understanding of how each can inform the other: normative ideas can suggest interesting experiments, while descriptive results can suggest important normative concepts. Woodward's overall framework builds on the interventionist treatment of causation that he developed in Making Things (...) Happen. Normative ideas discussed include proposals about the role of invariant or stable relationships in successful causal reasoning and the notion of proportionality. He argues that these normative ideas are reflected in the causal judgments that people actually make as a descriptive matter. Woodward also discusses the common philosophical practice-particularly salient in philosophical accounts of causation--of appealing to intuitions or judgments about cases in support of philosophical theses. He explores how, properly understood, such appeals are not different in principle from appeals to results from empirical research, and demonstrates how they may serve as a useful source of information about causal cognition. (shrink)
A number of writers, myself included, have recently argued that an “interventionist” treatment of causation of the sort defended in Woodward, 2003 can be used to cast light on so-called “causal exclusion” arguments. This interventionist treatment of causal exclusion has in turn been criticized by other philosophers. This paper responds to these criticisms. It describes an interventionist framework for thinking about causal relationships when supervenience relations are present. I contend that this framework helps us to see that standard arguments for (...) causal exclusion involve mistaken assumptions about what it is appropriate to control for or hold fixed in assessing causal claims. The framework also provides a natural way of capturing the idea that properties that supervene on but that are not identical with realizing properties can be causally efficacious. (shrink)
This paper describes an alternative to the common view that explanation in the special sciences involves subsumption under laws. According to this alternative, whether or not a generalization can be used to explain has to do with whether it is invariant rather than with whether it is lawful. A generalization is invariant if it is stable or robust in the sense that it would continue to hold under a relevant if it is stable or robust in the sense that it (...) would continue to hold under a relevant class of changes. Unlike lawfulness, invariance comes in degrees and has other features that are well suited to capture the characteristics of explanatory generalizations in the special sciences. For example, a generalization can be invariant even if it has exceptions or holds only over a limited spatio-temporal interval. The notion of invariance can be used to resolve a number of dilemmas that arise in standard treatments of explanatory generalizations in the special sciences. (shrink)
Issues concerning scientific explanation have been a focus of philosophical attention from Pre- Socratic times through the modern period. However, recent discussion really begins with the development of the Deductive-Nomological (DN) model. This model has had many advocates (including Popper 1935, 1959, Braithwaite 1953, Gardiner, 1959, Nagel 1961) but unquestionably the most detailed and influential statement is due to Carl Hempel (Hempel 1942, 1965, and Hempel & Oppenheim 1948). These papers and the reaction to them have structured subsequent discussion concerning (...) scientific explanation to an extraordinary degree. After some general remarks by way of background and orientation (Section 1), this entry describes the DN model and its extensions, and then turns to some well-known objections (Section 2). It next describes a variety of subsequent attempts to develop alternative models of explanation, including Wesley Salmon's Statistical Relevance (Section 3) and Causal Mechanical (Section 4) models and the Unificationist models due to Michael Friedman and Philip Kitcher (Section 5). Section 6 provides a summary and discusses directions for future work. (shrink)
This paper explores some issues about the choice of variables for causal representation and explanation. Depending on which variables a researcher employs, many causal inference procedures and many treatments of causation will reach different conclusions about which causal relationships are present in some system of interest. The assumption of this paper is that some choices of variables are superior to other choices for the purpose of causal analysis. A number of possible criteria for variable choice are described and defended within (...) a broadly interventionist approach to causation. (shrink)
This paper explores the question of whether all or most explanations in biology are, or ideally should be, ‘mechanistic’. I begin by providing an account of mechanistic explanation, making use of the interventionist ideas about causation I have developed elsewhere. This account emphasizes the way in which mechanistic explanations, at least in the biological sciences, integrate difference‐making and spatio‐temporal information, and exhibit what I call fine‐tunedness of organization. I also emphasize the role played by modularity conditions in mechanistic explanation. I (...) will then argue, in agreement with John Dupré, that, given this account, it is plausible that many biological systems require explanations that are relatively non‐mechanical or depart from expectations one associates with the behaviour of machines. (shrink)
This paper discusses some issues concerning the relationship between the mental and the physical, including the so-called causal exclusion argument, within the framework of a broadly interventionist approach to causation.
This paper responds to recent criticisms of the idea that true causal claims, satisfying a minimal “interventionist” criterion for causation, can differ in the extent to which they satisfy other conditions—called stability and proportionality—that are relevant to their use in explanatory theorizing. It reformulates the notion of proportionality so as to avoid problems with previous formulations. It also introduces the notion of conditional independence or irrelevance, which I claim is central to understanding the respects and the extent to which upper (...) level explanations can be “autonomous”. (shrink)
This essay explains what the Causal Markov Condition says and defends the condition from the many criticisms that have been launched against it. Although we are skeptical about some of the applications of the Causal Markov Condition, we argue that it is implicit in the view that causes can be used to manipulate their effects and that it cannot be surrendered without surrendering this view of causation.
This paper presents a counterfactual account of what a mechanism is. Mechanisms consist of parts, the behavior of which conforms to generalizations that are invariant under interventions, and which are modular in the sense that it is possible in principle to change the behavior of one part independently of the others. Each of these features can be captured by the truth of certain counterfactuals.
This chapter explores the possibility of weakening the criteria for causal explanation in Making Things Happen to yield various forms of non-causal explanation. These include the following: retaining the idea that explanations must answer what if things had been different questions but dropping the requirement the answers to such questions must take the form of claims about what would happen under interventions. Retaining the w- question requirement but allowing generalizations that hold for mathematical or conceptual reasons to figure in explanations. (...) Dropping the w-question requirement to accommodate the role of information about irrelevance in explanation. (shrink)
Manipulablity theories of causation, according to which causes are to be regarded as handles or devices for manipulating effects, have considerable intuitive appeal and are popular among social scientists and statisticians. This article surveys several prominent versions of such theories advocated by philosophers, and the many difficulties they face. Philosophical statements of the manipulationist approach are generally reductionist in aspiration and assign a central role to human action. These contrast with recent discussions employing a broadly manipulationist framework for understanding causation, (...) such as those due to the computer scientist Judea Pearl and others, which are non-reductionist and rely instead on the notion of an intervention. This is simply an appropriately exogenous causal process; it has no essential connection with human action. This interventionist framework manages to avoid at least some of these difficulties faced by traditional philosophical versions of the manipulability theory and helps to clarify the content of causal claims. (shrink)
This paper defends an interventionist account of causation by construing this account as a contribution to methodology, rather than as a set of theses about the ontology or metaphysics of causation. It also uses the topic of causation to raise some more general issues about the relation between, on the one hand, methodology, and, on the other hand, ontology and metaphysics, as these are understood in contemporary philosophical discussion, particularly among so-called analytic metaphysicians. It concludes with the suggestion that issues (...) about the ontology of causation often can be fruitfully reconstrued as methodological proposals. (shrink)
What is the relationship between, on the one hand, the sorts of causal claims found in the special sciences (and in common sense) and, on the other hand, the world as described by physics? A standard picture goes like this: the fundamental laws of physics are causal laws in the sense that they can be interpreted as telling us that realizations of one set of physical factors or properties “causes” realizations of other properties. Causal claims in the special sciences are (...) then true (to the extent that they are) in virtue of “instantiating” these underlying causal laws; as it is often put, the latter serve as “truth-makers” for the former. The picture is thus one according to which the notion of cause, as it occurs in the special sciences, is reflected or “grounded” in a fairly straightforward and transparent way in a similar notion that occurs in fundamental physics. This paper explores some alternatives to this picture. (shrink)
This essay advocates a “functional” approach to causation and causal reasoning: these are to be understood in terms of the goals and purposes of causal thinking. This approach is distinguished from accounts based on metaphysical considerations or on reconstruction of “intuitions.”.
This paper defends a counterfactual account of explanation, according to which successful explanation requires tracing patterns of counterfactual dependence of a special sort, involving what I call active counterfactuals. Explanations having this feature must appeal to generalizations that are invariant--stable under certain sorts of changes. These ideas are illustrated by examples drawn from physics and econometrics.
This paper provides a restatement and defense of the data/ phenomena distinction introduced by Jim Bogen and me several decades ago (e.g., Bogen and Woodward, The Philosophical Review, 303–352, 1988). Additional motivation for the distinction is introduced, ideas surrounding the distinction are clarified, and an attempt is made to respond to several criticisms.
This article discusses the role of simplicity and the notion of a best balance of simplicity and strength within the best systems account (BSA) of laws of nature. The article explores whether there is anything in scientific practice that corresponds to the notion of simplicity or to the trade-off between simplicity and strength to which the BSA appeals. Various theoretical rationales for simplicity preferences and their bearing on the identification of laws are also explored. It is concluded that there are (...) a number of issues about the role of simplicity within the BSA and its relation to strength that need to be addressed before the BSA can be regarded as an adequate account of laws. 1 Introduction2 The Best Systems Account3 The Trade-Off between Simplicity and Strength: Preliminary Considerations4 Alternative Conceptions of the Relationship between Simplicity and Strength5 Two Roles for Simplicity6 Simplicity in the Best Systems Account: Curve-Fitting7 Simplicity as a Corrective for Overfitting8 Descriptive Simplicity in the Best Systems Account?9 Simplicity as Due to Human Intellectual Limitations10 Summary11 Concluding Remarks. (shrink)
This paper develops an account of explanation in biology which does not involve appeal to laws of nature, at least as traditionally conceived. Explanatory generalizations in biology must satisfy a requirement that I call invariance, but need not satisfy most of the other standard criteria for lawfulness. Once this point is recognized, there is little motivation for regarding such generalizations as laws of nature. Some of the differences between invariance and the related notions of stability and resiliency, due respectively to (...) Sandra Mitchell and Brian Skyrms, are explored. (shrink)
Hierarchical Bayesian models (HBMs) provide an account of Bayesian inference in a hierarchically structured hypothesis space. Scientific theories are plausibly regarded as organized into hierarchies in many cases, with higher levels sometimes called ‘paradigms’ and lower levels encoding more specific or concrete hypotheses. Therefore, HBMs provide a useful model for scientific theory change, showing how higher‐level theory change may be driven by the impact of evidence on lower levels. HBMs capture features described in the Kuhnian tradition, particularly the idea that (...) higher‐level theories guide learning at lower levels. In addition, they help resolve certain issues for Bayesians, such as scientific preference for simplicity and the problem of new theories. *Received July 2009; revised October 2009. †To contact the authors, please write to: Leah Henderson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, 32D‐808, Cambridge, MA 02139; e‐mail: [email protected]. (shrink)
This paper defends an interventionist treatment of mechanisms and contrasts this with Waskan (forthcoming). Interventionism embodies a difference-making conception of causation. I contrast such conceptions with geometrical/mechanical or “actualist” conceptions, associating Waskan’s proposals with the latter. It is argued that geometrical/mechanical conceptions of causation cannot replace difference-making conceptions in characterizing the behavior of mechanisms, but that some of the intuitions behind the geometrical/mechanical approach can be captured by thinking in terms of spatio-temporally organized difference-making information.
In this paper I criticize the commonly accepted idea that the generalizations of the special sciences should be construed as ceteris paribus laws. This idea rests on mistaken assumptions about the role of laws in explanation and their relation to causal claims. Moreover, the major proposals in the literature for the analysis of ceteris paribus laws are, on their own terms, complete failures. I sketch a more adequate alternative account of the content of causal generalizations in the special sciences which (...) I argue should replace the ceteris paribus conception. (shrink)
This paper explores how data serve as evidence for phenomena. In contrast to standard philosophical models which invite us to think of evidential relationships as logical relationships, I argue that evidential relationships in the context of data-to-phenomena reasoning are empirical relationships that depend on holding the right sort of pattern of counterfactual dependence between the data and the conclusions investigators reach on the phenomena themselves.
How do people judge the degree of causal responsibility that an agent has for the outcomes of her actions? We show that a relatively unexplored factor -- the robustness of the causal chain linking the agent’s action and the outcome -- influences judgments of causal responsibility of the agent. In three experiments, we vary robustness by manipulating the number of background circumstances under which the action causes the effect, and find that causal responsibility judgments increase with robustness. In the first (...) experiment, the robustness manipulation also raises the probability of the effect given the action. Experiments 2 and 3 control for probability-raising, and show that robustness still affects judgments of causal responsibility. In particular, Experiment 3 introduces an Ellsberg type of scenario to manipulate robustness, while keeping the conditional probability and the skill deployed in the action fixed. Experiment 4, replicates the results of Experiment 3, while contrasting between judgments of causal strength and of causal responsibility. The results show that in all cases, the perceived degree of responsibility increases with the robustness of the action-outcome causal chain. (shrink)
Hierarchical Bayesian models (HBMs) provide an account of Bayesian inference in a hierarchically structured hypothesis space. Scientific theories are plausibly regarded as organized into hierarchies in many cases, with higher levels sometimes called ‘para- digms’ and lower levels encoding more specific or concrete hypotheses. Therefore, HBMs provide a useful model for scientific theory change, showing how higher-level theory change may be driven by the impact of evidence on lower levels. HBMs capture features described in the Kuhnian tradition, particularly the idea (...) that higher-level theories guide learning at lower levels. In addition, they help resolve certain issues for Bayesians, such as scientific preference for simplicity and the problem of new theories. (shrink)
This paper explores a distinction among causal relationships that has yet to receive attention in the philosophical literature, namely, whether causal relationships are reversible or irreversible. We provide an analysis of this distinction and show how it has important implications for causal inference and modeling. This work also clarifies how various familiar puzzles involving preemption and over-determination play out differently depending on whether the causation involved is reversible.
This paper discusses some procedures developed in recent work in machine learning for inferring causal direction from observational data. The role of independence and invariance assumptions is emphasized. Several familiar examples including Hempel’s flagpole problem are explored in the light of these ideas. The framework is then applied to problems having to do with explanatory direction in non-causal explanation.
expose some gaps and difficulties in the argument for the causal Markov condition in our essay ‘Independence, Invariance and the Causal Markov Condition’ (), and we are grateful for the opportunity to reformulate our position. In particular, Cartwright disagrees vigorously with many of the theses we advance about the connection between causation and manipulation. Although we are not persuaded by some of her criticisms, we shall confine ourselves to showing how our central argument can be reconstructed and to casting doubt (...) on Cartwright's claim that the causal Markov condition typically fails when there are indeterministic by-products. Why believe the causal Markov condition? Causation and manipulation The argument Indeterministic by-products and the causal Markov condition The chemical factory counterexample and PM2 Conclusions: causation and manipulability. (shrink)
We argue that Koch’s postulates are best understood within an interventionist account of causation, in the sense described in Woodward. We show how this treatment helps to resolve interpretive puzzles associated with Koch’s work and how it clarifies the different roles the postulates play in providing useful, yet not universal criteria for disease causation. Our paper is an effort at rational reconstruction; we attempt to show how Koch’s postulates and reasoning make sense and are normatively justified within an interventionist framework (...) and more difficult to understand within alternative frameworks for thinking about causation. (shrink)
This paper defends the notion of downward causation. I will seek to elucidate this notion, explain why it is a useful way of thinking, and respond to criticisms attacking its intelligibility. My account of downward causation will be in many respects similar to the account recently advanced by Ellis. The overall framework I will adopt is the interventionist treatment of causation I have defended elsewhere: X causes Y when Y changes under a suitable manipulation of X. When X is at (...) a higher “level” than Y this allows for the possibility of downward causation from X to Y. True claims of downward causation must meet certain additional conditions, some of which have already been discussed by Ellis. These include the condition that X must have a homogenous effect on Y in the sense that the effect of X on Y must be the same regardless of how X is “realized” at lower levels. In addition, the most plausible examples of downward causation will involve causes X, that in a sense that I will try to specify, are capable of being manipulated by macro-level interventions that have a coordinated or organized impact on them, as when one manipulates the temperature of a gas by placing it in a heat bath.Three common criticisms of the notion of downward causation that I will consider are: the claim that this involves a whole acting downward on its parts which is an objectionable idea because wholes and parts are not sufficiently distinct to stand in causal relationships, that downward causation commits us to the existence of causal cycles in which X causes Y which in turn causes X and that the asymmetric nature of the causal relation rules out such cycles, and causal exclusion type worries, according to which all of the causal action occurs among “low level” variables, so that upper level variables are deprived of causal efficacy. In response I will argue that plausible examples of downward causation in the scientific literature do not involve whole to part causation, there is nothing wrong with causal cycles, which are common in, for example, biological contexts, exclusion type worries do not arise within the interventionist framework that I favor. (shrink)
This paper explores some issues concerning the nature and structure of causal explanation in psychiatry and psychology from the point of view of the “interventionist” theory defended in my book, Making Things Happen. Among the issues is explored is the extent to which candidate causal explanations involving “upper level” or relatively coarse-grained or macroscopic variables such as mental/psychological states (e.g. highly self critical beliefs or low self esteem) or environmental factors (e.g. parental abuse) compete with explanations that instead appeal to (...) underlying, “lower level” or more fine gained neural, genetic, or biochemical mechanisms. (shrink)
This article defends the use of interventionist counterfactuals to elucidate causal and explanatory claims against criticisms advanced by James Bogen and Peter Machamer. Against Bogen, I argue that counterfactual claims concerning what would happen under interventions are meaningful and have determinate truth values, even in a deterministic world. I also argue, against both Machamer and Bogen, that we need to appeal to counterfactuals to capture the notions like causal relevance and causal mechanism. Contrary to what both authors suppose, counterfactuals are (...) not "unscientific" - a substantial tradition within statistics and the causal modelling literature makes heavy use of them. (shrink)
This paper explores the idea that laws express relationships between properties or universals as defended in Michael Tooley's recent book Causation: A Realist Approach. I suggest that the most plausible version of realism will take a different form than that advocated by Tooley. According to this alternative, laws are grounded in facts about the capacities and powers of particular systems, rather than facts about relations between universals. The notion of lawfulness is linked to the notion of invariance, rather than to (...) the metaphysical notion of a necessary connection. (shrink)
We use the phrase "moral intuition" to describe the appearance in consciousness of moral judgments or assessments without any awareness of having gone through a conscious reasoning process that produces this assessment. This paper investigates the neural substrates of moral intuition. We propose that moral intuitions are part of a larger set of social intuitions that guide us through complex, highly uncertain and rapidly changing social interactions. Such intuitions are shaped by learning. The neural substrates for moral intuition include fronto-insular, (...) cingulate, and orbito-frontal cortices and associated subcortical structure such as the septum, basil ganglia and amygdala. Understanding the role of these structures undercuts many philosophical doctrines concerning the status of moral intuitions, but vindicates the claim that they can sometimes play a legitimate role in moral decision-making. (shrink)