Essential Structure and Apt Causal Models (Jennifer McDonald)

The Logic and Metaphysics Workshop will meet on December 7th from 4:15-6:15 (NY time) via Zoom for a talk by Jennifer McDonald (CUNY).

Title: Essential Structure and Apt Causal Models

Abstract: A promising account of actual causation – the causal relation holding between two token events – uses the language of structural equation models (SEMs). Such an account says, roughly, that actual causation holds between two token events when there is a suitable model according to which (1) the two events occur; and (2) intervening on the model to change the value of the variable that represents the cause changes the value of the variable that represents the effect (Halpern & Pearl, 2005; Hitchcock, 2001; Weslake, 2015; Woodward, 2003). Of course, this calls for an account of when a model is suitable – or, apt. Although initially bracketed, this issue is increasingly pressing; in part due to the recently discovered problem of structural isomorphs (Hall 2007; Hitchcock 2007a; Blanchard and Schaffer 2017; Menzies 2017). This paper offers a unified analysis of two aptness requirements from the literature – those enjoining us to include essential structure and avoid unstable models. While successfully invoked by Blanchard and Schaffer (2017) to resolve the problem of structural isomorphs, these requirements are unilluminating as they stand. My paper synthesizes them into a single aptness requirement that, I claim, gets to the heart of what’s representationally required of a causal model for capturing actual causation.

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