The Logic and Metaphysics Workshop will meet on April 4th from 4:15-6:15 (NY time) in-person at the Graduate Center (Room 5382) for a talk by Jenn McDonald (Columbia).
Title: Causal Relativism
Abstract: In this talk, I defend a kind of causal relativism. I argue that actual causation cannot be taken to hold simpliciter between two particular things (‘things’ such as events, states-of-affairs, etc.). Instead, actual causation holds only relative to a background space of possibilities – a modal profile. The argument applies generally to any difference-making analysis of actual causation. But I will use the framework of structural equation models to make the case. I first demonstrate that structural equation models represent situations in this way – as relative to some modal profile or other. This observation is underappreciated in the literature. I show how it raises a problem for all extant analyses of actual causation in terms of these models. This problem is best responded to by a kind of causal relativism, or so I will argue. Notably, the problem cannot be avoided by rejecting a structural equation framework. While the framework is useful for its illustration, the problem arises for any analysis governed by the idea that a cause is what makes a difference in an effect’s occurrence.