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The Character of Causation: Investigating the Impact of Character, Knowledge, and Desire on Causal Attributions

Sytsma, Justin (2019) The Character of Causation: Investigating the Impact of Character, Knowledge, and Desire on Causal Attributions. [Preprint]

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Abstract

There is a growing consensus that norms matter for ordinary causal attributions. This has important implications for philosophical debates over actual causation. Many hold that theories of actual causation should coincide with ordinary causal attributions, yet those attributions often diverge from the theories when norms are involved. There remains substantive debate about why norms matter for causal attributions, however. In this paper, I consider two competing explanations—Alicke’s bias view, which holds that the impact of norms reflects systematic error (suggesting that ordinary causal attributions should be ignored in the philosophical debates), and our responsibility view, which holds that the impact of norms reflects the appropriate application of the ordinary concept of causation (suggesting that philosophical accounts are not analyzing the ordinary concept). I investigate one key difference between these views: the bias view, but not the responsibility view, predicts that “peripheral features” of the agents in causal scenarios—features that are irrelevant to appropriately assessing responsibility for an outcome, such as general character—will also impact ordinary causal attributions. These competing predictions are tested for two different types of scenarios. I find that information about an agent’s character does not impact causal attributions on its own. Rather, when character shows an effect it works through inferences to relevant features of the agent. In one scenario this involves inferences to the agent’s knowledge of the likely result of her action and her desire to bring about that result, with information about knowledge and desire each showing an independent effect on causal attributions.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
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Sytsma, Justin
Keywords: Causation, Actual Causation, Causal Attributions, Debunking, Bias, Responsibility, Experimental Philosophy
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
Specific Sciences > Psychology
Depositing User: Justin Sytsma
Date Deposited: 22 Dec 2019 18:38
Last Modified: 28 Dec 2019 14:39
Item ID: 16739
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
Specific Sciences > Psychology
Date: 20 December 2019
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16739

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