Causal Relativism (Jenn McDonald)

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.

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