Skip to main content

Dispositional versus epistemic causality

Abstract

I put forward several desiderata that a philosophical theory of causality should satisfy: it should account for the objectivity of causality, it should underpin formalisms for causal reasoning, it should admit a viable epistemology, it should be able to cope with the great variety of causal claims that are made, and it should be ontologically parsimonious. I argue that Nancy Cartwright’s dispositional account of causality goes part way towards meeting these criteria but is lacking in important respects. I go on to argue that my epistemic account, which ties causal relationships to an agent’s knowledge and ignorance, performs well in the light of the desiderata. Such an account, I claim, is all we require from a theory of causality.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Armstrong, D. (2004). Truth and truthmakers. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bird, A. (2005). Laws and essences. Ratio, 18, 437–461.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cartwright, N. (1983). How the laws of physics lie. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cartwright, N. (1989). Nature’s capacities and their measurement. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cartwright, N. (1999). The dappled world: A study of the boundaries of science. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cartwright, N. (2001). What is wrong with Bayes nets? The Monist, 84(2):242–264.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cartwright, N. (2003). What makes a capacity a disposition? Causality: Metaphysics and methods discussion paper 10/03, London School of Economics Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science.

  • Dowe, P. (2000). Physical causation. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillispie, S. B., & Perlman, M. D. (2002). The size distribution for Markov equivalence classes of acyclic digraph models. Artificial Intelligence, 141, 137–155.

    MATH  MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glymour, B. (2003). On the metaphysics of probabilistic causation: Lessons from social epidemiology. Philosophy of Science, 70, 1413–1423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hume, D. (1748). Enquiry into the human understanding. In Enquiries concerning human understanding and concerning the principles of morals, third (1975) edition. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

  • Jaynes, E. T. (2003). Probability theory: The logic of science. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kant, I. (1781). Critique of pure reason. Macmillan (1929), second (1787) edition. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith.

  • Lewis, D. K. (1973). Causation. In Philosophical papers vol 2, (pp. 159– 213). Oxford University Press (1986), Oxford.

  • Menzies, P., & Price, H. (1993). Causation as a secondary quality. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 44, 187–203.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mill, J.S. (1843). A system of logic, ratiocinative and inductive: Being a connected view of the principles of evidence and the methods of scientific investigation, seventh (1868) edition. Longmans Green Reader and Dyer: London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Papineau, D. (1992). Can we reduce causal direction to probabilities? Philosophy of Science Association, 1992(2), 238–252.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pearl, J. (2000). Causality: Models, reasoning, and inference. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Price, H. (2005). Causal perspectivalism. In: Price, H. & Corry, R., (Eds.), Causation, physics and the constitution of reality: Russell’s republic revisited. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Russell, B. (1913). On the notion of cause. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 13, 1–26.

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  • Salmon, W. C. (1998). Causality and explanation. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schaffer, J. (2005). Contrastive causation. The Philosophical Review, 114(3).

  • Shoemaker, S. (1998). Causal and metaphysical necessity. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 79, 59–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spirtes, P., Glymour, C., & Scheines, R. (1993). Causation, prediction, and search, second (2000) edition. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  • Spohn, W. (2002). Bayesian nets are all there is to causal dependence. In: Galavotti, M. C., Suppes, P., & Costantini, D., (Eds.), Stochastic causality. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL.

    Google Scholar 

  • Suppes, P. (1970). A probabilistic theory of causality. North-Holland: Amsterdam.

    Google Scholar 

  • Williamson, J. (2005). Bayesian nets and causality: Philosophical and computational foundations. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Williamson, J. (2006). Causality. In D. Gabbay & F. Guenthner (Eds.), Handbook of philosophical logic, vol 14, Springer.

  • Williamson, J., & Gabbay, D. (2005). Recursive causality in Bayesian networks and self-fibring networks. In: D. Gillies (Ed.), Laws and models in the sciences (pp. 173–221). King’s College Publications: London. With comments pp. 223–245.

Download references

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Laurence Goldstein, Federica Russo and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jon Williamson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Williamson, J. Dispositional versus epistemic causality. Minds & Machines 16, 259–276 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-006-9033-3

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-006-9033-3

Keywords

  • Causality
  • Causation
  • Dispositions
  • Capacities