Taking Control : The role of manipulation in theories of causation

Dissertation, Stockholm University (2019)
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Causation has always been a philosophically controversial subject matter. While David Hume’s empiricist account of causation has been the dominant influence in analytic philosophy and science during modern times, a minority view has instead connected causation essentially to agency and manipulation. A related approach has for the first time gained widespread popularity in recent years, due to new powerful theories of causal inference in science that are based in a technical notion of intervention, and James Woodward’s closely connected interventionist theory of causation in philosophy. This monograph assesses five manipulationist or interventionist theories of causation, viewed as theories that purport to tell us what causation is by providing us with the meaning of causal claims. It is shown that they cannot do this, as the conditions on causation that they impose are too weak, mainly due to ineliminable circularities in their definitions of causal terms. It is then argued that a subset of Woodward’s theory can nevertheless contribute crucially to an explanation of the unique role that manipulation has in our acquisition of causal knowledge. This explanation differs from the common regularist explanation of the epistemic utility of manipulation and experiment, and it is taken to confirm several important manipulationist intuitions. However, the success of the explanation depends on interventionism not itself being understood as a theory of causation, but as a theory of intervention.
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