Path-Specific Effects

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Abstract
A cause may influence its effect via multiple paths. Paradigmatically (Hesslow [1974]), taking birth control pills both decreases one’s risk of thrombosis by preventing pregnancy and increases it by producing a blood chemical. Building on Pearl ([2001]), I explicate the notion of a path-specific effect. Roughly, a path-specific effect of C on E via path P is the degree to which a change in C would change E were they to be transmitted only via P. Facts about such effects may be gleaned from the structural equations commonly used to represent the causal relationships among variables. I contrast my analysis of the Hesslow case with those given by theorists of probabilistic causality, who mistakenly link it to issues of causal heterogeneity, token-causation and indeterminism. The reason probabilistic theories misdiagnose this case is that they pay inadequate attention to the structural relationships among variables.
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Archival date: 2017-08-23
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Causation, Prediction, and Search.Spirtes, Peter; Glymour, Clark & Scheines, Richard
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Hitchcock, Christopher & Pearl, Judea

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2017-08-23

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