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Normative commitments, causal structure, and policy disagreement

  • Georgie Statham


Recently, there has been a large amount of support for the idea that causal claims can be sensitive to normative considerations. Previous work has focused on the concept of actual causation, defending the claim that whether or not some token event c is a cause of another token event e is influenced by both statistical and prescriptive norms. I focus on the policy debate surrounding alternative energies, and use the causal modelling framework to show that in this context, people’s normative commitments don’t just affect the causal claims they are willing to endorse, but also their understanding of the causal structure. In the context of the alternative energy debate, normative considerations affect our (implicit) understanding of the causal structure by influencing our judgements about which variables should be held fixed, and therefore which variables should be relegated to the background of a causal model. In cases of extreme disagreement, normative commitments can also affect which causal structure we think should be instantiated. Thus, focusing on a new context has revealed a previously unexplored sense in which normative factors are incorporated into causal reasoning.


Causation Norms Policy Interventionism Causal models Alternative energies 



Thank you to Claire Benn, Sharon Berry, Casper Storm-Hansen, Moshe Justman, York Hagmayer, Christopher Hitchcock, Enno Fischer, participants at the Linguistic Perspectives on Causation Workshop at the Language Logic and Cognition Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (June 2017) and the Polonsky Academy Seminar (May 2017), and especially to three anonymous reviewers from this journal.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Van Leer Jerusalem InstituteJerusalemIsrael

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