Why Your Causal Intuitions are Corrupt: Intermediate and Enabling Variables

Erkenntnis:1-29 (forthcoming)
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When evaluating theories of causation, intuitions should not play a decisive role, not even intuitions in flawlessly-designed thought experiments. Indeed, no coherent theory of causation can respect the typical person’s intuitions in redundancy (pre-emption) thought experiments, without disrespecting their intuitions in threat-and-saviour (switching / short-circuit) thought experiments. I provide a deductively sound argument for these claims. Amazingly, this argument assumes absolutely nothing about the nature of causation. I also provide a second argument, whose conclusion is even stronger: the typical person’s causal intuitions are thoroughly unreliable. This argument proceeds by raising the neglected question: in what respects is information about intermediate and enabling variables relevant to reliable causal judgment?

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Christopher Clarke
Cambridge University


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