Ceteris Paribus Hedges: Causal Voodoo That Works
Journal of Philosophy, November 2012
Abstract: What do the words ceteris paribus add to a causal hypothesis, that is, to a generalization that is intended to articulate the consequences of a causal mechanism? One answer, that looks almost too good to be true, is that a ceteris paribus hedge restricts the scope of the hypothesis to those cases where nothing undermines, interferes with, or undoes the effect of the mechanism in question, even if the hypothesis's own formulator is otherwise unable to specify fully what might constitute such undermining or interference. This paper proposes a semantics for causal generalizations according to which ceteris paribus hedges deliver on this promise, because the truth conditions for a causal generalization depend in part on the – perhaps unknown – nature of the mechanism whose consequences it is intended to describe. It follows that the truth conditions for causal hypotheses are typically opaque to their own formulators.
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