Why Represent Causal Relations?

Published: A. Gopnik and L. Schulz (eds.), Causal Learning: Psychology, Philosophy, Computation, Oxford University Press, New York, 2007.

Abstract: Why do we represent the world around us using causal generalizations, rather than, say, purely statistical generalizations? Do causal representations contain useful additional information, or are they merely more efficient for inferential purposes? This paper considers the second kind of answer: it investigates some ways in which causal cognition might aid us not because of its expressive power, but because of its organizational power.

Three styles of explanation are considered. The first, building on the work of Reichenbach in The Direction of Time, points to causal representation as especially efficient for predictive purposes in a world containing certain pervasive patterns of conditional independence. The second, inspired by work of Woodward and others, finds causal representation to be an excellent vehicle for representing all-important relations of manipulability. The third, based in part on my own work, locates the importance of causal cognition in the special role it reserves for information about underlying mechanisms. All three varieties of explanation show promise, but particular emphasis is placed on the third.

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