Wolfgang Spohn

in The Laws of Belief

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199697502
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739323 | DOI:

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This is by far the longest chapter of the book. It deals with the most important and mysterious natural modality: causation. It proceeds from the basic idea underlying all deterministic and probabilistic theories of causation that a cause raises the metaphysical or epistemic status of the effect given the obtaining circumstances. For direct causes the circumstances can be explained in a non-circular way. Thus, the basic idea immediately yields a precise explication of deterministic direct causes in ranking-theoretic terms. The explication is extended to direct causal dependence between variables and allows proving all basic principles such as the common cause principle and the causal Markov condition. Hence, causal theorizing in terms of Bayesian nets works here equally well. These definitions of causal relations are frame-relative, but they allow inferring what causation is in absolute terms. Moreover, a way is shown of how not to deny, but to accommodate so-called interactive forks, which prima facie violate the common cause principle. Finally, the analysis is extended to indirect causation by a detailed argument for the transitivity of causation, which, however, entails the transitivity of causal dependence between variables only under additional assumptions. All this is done with a continuous look at many examples and many other accounts of causation. An appendix briefly extends the analysis to causal explanation. And a final appendix argues that inference to the best explanation is basically the ranking analogue of Bayes’ theorem and, moreover, that there is no problem of the catch-all hypothesis within the ranking-theoretic framework.

Keywords: causation; causal dependence; causal markov condition; interactive forks; transitivity of causation; inference to the best explanation; catch-all hypothesis

Chapter.  55721 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Metaphysics

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