Science & Logic

Invariance and Causation by Absence

I am very pleased to contribute to this symposium on Causation with a Human Face (CHF). My commentary concerns chapter 6 of CHF, which uses the notion of invariance to shed light on various puzzle cases about causation. (See Jim’s post “Invariance and Distinctions Within Causation” for a summary of the chapter.) I will focus on Jim’s discussion of causation by absence. ¶ One question raised by Jim’s discussion concerns the role (if any) of normality in explaining causal judgments regarding absences. Jim acknowledges in chapter 2 of CHF that considerations of abnormality (encompassing violations of statistical, moral and functional norms) play an important role in causal selection, and also grants that issues of moral responsibility and which possibilities we take seriously may play a role in explaining at least some of our causal judgments about absences (p. 292). Invariance considerations are supposed to constitute an additional influence on those judgments. But one may wonder whether normality considerations alone are sufficient to explain our assessments, without having to appeal to invariance. Consider a simple account (in the spirit of McGrath 2005) on which only abnormal absences are regarded as causes. That story makes sense of the examples discussed by Jim: we do not think that the absence of a meteor hitting Earth (normal) caused Jim to write his paragraph, but we do regard the absence of food (abnormal) as a cause of the death. (Here I leave aside reasons one may have to be skeptical of proposals that give... -

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A pedagogical universe

Our science developed over milennia, progressing from false theory to less false theory. Why did we not give up long ago? I take it this is because the false theories, nonetheless, had rewards associated with them: although false, they allowed for prediction and technological control in ways that were useful (in a broad sense) to us. ¶ Thus, the success of our science depends not just on a “uniformity of nature” on which the correct fundamental scientific theories are elegant and uniform. Most of our historical progress in physics has not involved correct scientific theories—and quite possibly, we do not have any correct fundamental theories in physics yet. The success of our science required low-hanging fruit for us to pick along the way, fruit... -

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Woodward on Invariance across Background Conditions

One of Woodward’s most important contributions to the study of causation is his introduction of the notion of invariance across background conditions. Woodward’s ideas on this topic have had a major influence on experimental research in causal cognition (including on my own work), and I thought it might be helpful to... -

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Can one lie without asserting a proposition?

I am starting to think that one can lie without asserting a proposition. ¶ Let’s say that a counterintelligence agent tells an enemy spy that a new weapons technology has just been deployed, in order to dissuade the enemy from invading. The description of the technology contains nonsensical technobabble.... -

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Woodward on Invariance across Background Conditions One of Woodward’s most important contributions to the study of causation is his introduction of the notion of invariance across background conditions. Woodward’s ideas on this topic have had a major influence on experimental research in causal cognition (including on my own work), and I thought it might be helpful to do a little bit to help bring out the importance of this contribution. First off, what exactly is invariance across background conditions? Perhaps the easiest way... Brains Blog -


Invariance and Causation by Absence I am very pleased to contribute to this symposium on Causation with a Human Face (CHF). My commentary concerns chapter 6 of CHF, which uses the notion of invariance to shed light on various puzzle cases about causation. (See Jim’s post “Invariance and Distinctions Within Causation” for a summary of the chapter.) I will focus on Jim’s discussion of causation by absence. One question raised by Jim’s discussion concerns the role (if any) of normality... Brains Blog -


Invariance and Distinctions Within Causation A previous post  mentioned  the notion of distinctions within causation (or among causal claims). The general idea is that a relationship can satisfy a minimal “interventionist”  condition for causation (in the sense that X can be related to Y in such a way that some interventions on X are associated with a change in Y) but nonetheless differ along a number of other dimensions– these are what give us distinctions within causation. One such dimension has to do... Brains Blog -


Empirical Results concerning Causal Reasoning and Their Philosophical Significance As explained in the previous post, one very rich area of inquiry concerns the extent to which normative theories of causal reasoning, from both philosophy and elsewhere, successfully characterize how, as an empirical matter,  various sorts  of subjects (adults, children, non-human animals) reason. This has been explored by psychologists and other researchers but many of the results are less well-known to philosophers than they should be. These results matter not only for their intrinsic interest but for... Brains Blog -


Ad Hoc Ad Hoc by Rachel Katler Other Daily Nous Comics / More Info about DN Comics Rachel Katler on Twitter Daily Nous -


Can one lie without asserting a proposition? I am starting to think that one can lie without asserting a proposition. Let’s say that a counterintelligence agent tells an enemy spy that a new weapons technology has just been deployed, in order to dissuade the enemy from invading. The description of the technology contains nonsensical technobabble. This seems to be a lie. If it is, my argument is complete, because nonsense does not express a proposition. But suppose we say it’s mere BS.... Alexander Pruss -


Attention [Revised entry by Christopher Mole on October 26, 2021. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Attention is involved in the selective directedness of our mental lives. The nature of this selectivity is one of the principal points of disagreement between the extant theories of attention. Some of the most influential theories treat the selectivity of attention as resulting from limitations in the brain's capacity to process the complex properties of multiple perceivable stimuli. Other theories take... Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy -


Unconscious Inference in Delusion Formation In this post, Federico Bongiorno (now a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford, funded by an Analysis Trust and Mind Association award) is summarising a paper he wrote with Lisa Bortolotti while a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. The paper is entitled: "The Role of Unconscious Inference in Models of Delusion Formation" and appeared in Inference and Consciousness, a volume edited by Timothy Chan and Anders Nes and published by Routledge in... Imperfect Cognitions -


Introduction to Causation With A Human Face How should philosophers (and others) approach the topic of causation and causal reasoning? Causation with a Human Face (CHF) proposes an approach that brings together results from a number of different disciplines, both descriptive ( e.g., the empirical psychology of causal cognition) and normative (statistics, econometrics, machine learning,  philosophy).  The guiding idea is that   causal reasoning  should be understood in “functional” terms– that is in terms of the role that it plays in human life and the human goals and purposes... Brains Blog -


A quick argument against subjective Bayesianism You should assign a prior probability less than 1/2 to the hypothesis that over the lifetime of the universe there were exactly 100 tosses of a fair coin and they were all heads. The hypothesis in (1) is contingent. If there is a contingent hypothesis to which you should assign a prior probability less than 1/2, then subjective Bayesianism is false. So, subjective Bayesianism is false. Alexander Pruss -


On two arguments for Bayesian regularity Standard Bayesianism requires regularity: it requires that I not assign prior probability zero to any contingent proposition. There are two main reasons for this: one technical and one epistemological. The technical reason is that it is difficult to make sense of conditionalizing on events with probability zero. (Granted, there are technical ways around this, but there are also problems with these.) But the difficulty of conditionalizing on events with probability zero does not give one... Alexander Pruss -


I’ll be speaking at the Philo of Sci Association (PSA): Philosophy IN Science: Can Philosophers of Science Contribute to Science? . Philosophy in Science: Can Philosophers of Science Contribute to Science?      on November 13, 2-4 pm   This session revolves around the intriguing question: Can Philosophers of Science Contribute to Science? They’re calling it philosophy “in” science–when philosophical ministrations actually intervene in a science itself.  This is the session I’ll be speaking in. I hope you will come to our session if you’re there–it’s hybrid, so you can’t see it through a remote... Error Statistics -


François Laruelle’s A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN Introduction 4.1 Science and Objects Pluralism, real multiple, the One is the mark of the multiple, transcendental science vs empirical sciences, real comparison vs metaphorical comparison, the quantum connection, change in the modes of visibility and objectivation of objects, object-oriented ontology, ob-jects vs objects, « fields » as philosophical posits. Agent Swarm -


Heather Browning (LSE): “Assessing Measures of Animal Welfare”   Heather Browning (LSE): “Assessing Measures of Animal Welfare” There are many decision contexts in which we require accurate information on animal welfare, but many of the methods currently used for estimating welfare are subjective and unreliable. Here, I look at how we might apply principled methods from animal welfare science to arrive at more accurate scores, which will then help us in making the best decisions for animals. I construct and apply a framework... LSE Philosophy -


Reversing Logical Nihilism - Forthcoming in Synthese Final draft available on PhilPapers.Abstract: Gillian Russell has recently proposed counterexamples to such elementary argument forms as Conjunction Introduction (e.g. ‘Snow is white. Grass is green. Therefore, snow is white and grass is green’) and Identity (e.g. ‘Snow is white. Therefore, snow is white’). These purported counterexamples involve expressions that are sensitive to linguistic context—for example, a sentence which is true when it appears alone but false when embedded in a larger sentence. If they are... Sprachlogik -


Jan Łukasiewicz [Revised entry by Peter Simons on October 21, 2021. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Jan Łukasiewicz (1878 - 1956) was a Polish logician and philosopher who introduced mathematical logic into Poland, became the earliest founder of the Warsaw school of logic, and one of the principal architects and teachers of that school. His most famous achievement was to give the first rigorous formulation of many-valued logic. He introduced many improvements in propositional logic, and became... Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy -


Metaphysical Explanation [New Entry by Andrew Brenner, Anna-Sofia Maurin, Alexander Skiles, Robin Stenwall, and Naomi Thompson on October 21, 2021.] Explanation comes in many forms. Scientific explanations typically concern the natural world, and typically proceed by citing causes of natural phenomena or subsuming them under empirical laws in some illuminating way. Mathematical explanations typically concern the world... Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy -


Extinction at Boggle Hole  Last week was the inaugural field trip of the Leverhulme Extinction Studies Doctoral Training Program at Leeds. Students and supervisors headed to Boggle Hole, a beautiful cove just south of Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast.It's a gorgeous stretch, and on day one we were really lucky with the weather while Ana Cowie from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust led us on a rockpooling session.We found a bunch of cool stuff, including ragworms, a devil... Philosomama -


Is Lewis's identity theory a type-type identity theory? David Lewis’s identity theory of mind holds that: For each mental state type M there is a causal role RM such that to be a state of type M is to fulfill RM. For each actually occurring mental state type M, the causal role RM is fulfilled by physical states and only physical states. It is normal to take Lewis’s identity theory to be a type-type identity theory. But a type-type identity theory identifies being... Alexander Pruss -


If we reshuffled the atoms in the observable universe, how likely is it we would get any molecules? Here’s an amusing question. Let’s say that I took all the atoms in the observable universe and shuffled their positions by independent randomly and uniformly choosing positions for them through the volume of the observable universe. What is the probability that I would get any molecules? It turns out not to be hard to answer this if we just want to get a very rough upper bound. The above-linked Wikipedia article on the observable universe... Alexander Pruss -