Journal Article

Venetian Sea Levels, British Bread Prices, and the Principle of the Common Cause

Elliott Sober

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 52, issue 2, pages 331-346
Published in print June 2001 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online June 2001 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/52.2.331
Venetian Sea Levels, British Bread Prices, and the Principle of the Common Cause

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When two causally independent processes each have a quantity that increases monotonically (either deterministically or in probabilistic expectation), the two quantities will be correlated, thus providing a counterexample to Reichenbach's principle of the common cause. Several philosophers have denied this, but I argue that their efforts to save the principle are unsuccessful. Still, one salvage attempt does suggest a weaker principle that avoids the initial counterexample. However, even this weakened principle is mistaken, as can be seen by exploring the concepts of homology and homoplasy used in evolutionary biology. I argue that the kernel of truth in the principle of the common cause is to be found by separating metaphysical and epistemological issues; as far as the epistemology is concerned, the Likelihood Principle is central.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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