, Volume 193, Issue 4, pp 1073–1103

Causality as a theoretical concept: explanatory warrant and empirical content of the theory of causal nets


DOI: 10.1007/s11229-014-0630-z

Cite this article as:
Schurz, G. & Gebharter, A. Synthese (2016) 193: 1073. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0630-z


We start this paper by arguing that causality should, in analogy with force in Newtonian physics, be understood as a theoretical concept that is not explicated by a single definition, but by the axioms of a theory. Such an understanding of causality implicitly underlies the well-known theory of causal (Bayes) nets (TCN) and has been explicitly promoted by Glymour (Br J Philos Sci 55:779–790, 2004). In this paper we investigate the explanatory warrant and empirical content of TCN. We sketch how the assumption of directed cause–effect relations can be philosophically justified by an inference to the best explanation. We then ask whether the explanations provided by TCN are merely post-facto or have independently testable empirical content. To answer this question we develop a fine-grained axiomatization of TCN, including a distinction of different kinds of faithfulness. A number of theorems show that although the core axioms of TCN are empirically empty, extended versions of TCN have successively increasing empirical content.


Screening off Linking up Axioms for causal nets  Inference to the best explanation Empirical content 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Düsseldorf Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (DCLPS), Department of PhilosophyHeinrich Heine University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

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