PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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The Selection of Path-Specific Effects

Recent theories of actual causation have appealed to (1) path-specific effects; and (2) considerations of normality. I will briefly review some of the empirical literature demonstrating an influence of normality on ordinary causal judgment. In particular, considerations of normality seem to influence causal selection: the selection of ‘the cause(s)’ from among several structurally similar candidate causes. I suggest that normality may play a similar role in influencing the selection among path-specific effects. I then offer an account of why we might have a special interest in path-specific effects that are present in normal conditions. Knowledge of such path-specific effects is not needed in one-shot decision problems. However, such knowledge is needed to guide plans involving multiple steps. Such plans require that know how our interventions will work in conjunction with future interventions that are feasible, expected, and desirable. This explains both the focus on path-specific effects, and the sensitivity of actual causation to considerations of normality.

Author Information:

Christopher Hitchcock    
California Institute of Technology

 

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