Sydney, 19-21 July 2006
This is the third workshop in the series The Origins
and Functions of Causal Thinking, and will focus on the topic
'Intervention, Time and Physics'. Issues to be discussed will
This workshop will be followed by a conference on Time and Consciousness, organised jointly with the Centre for Consciousness at ANU; the sessions on Friday 21 July are intended to provide an overlap between the two meetings. Details of the Time and Consciousness conference are available here.
Difference Between Buses and Trams
We propose that this discursion on public transport throws
important new light on the foundations of interventionist causation:
roughly, it suggests that the causal perspective is an inevitable
by-product of an epistemic degeneracy.
Varieties of Causal Anti-Realism
Agency theories of causation have often been criticised for
not being sufficiently realist about causation. In my view recent
agency theories have not been dialectically effective in addressing
this charge. On the one hand there are those such as Huw Price and
Peter Menzies, who have appealed to analogies with mind-dependent
properties such as secondary qualities (Menzies and Price) and
perspectives (Price), have emphasised the experience of agency, and
have aimed for reduction˛encouraging (despite their disavowals) the
view that the agency theory amounts to a kind of subjectivism. On the
other hand there are those such as Judea Pearl and Jim Woodward, who in
reaction have distanced themselves completely from the centrality of
agency (Pearl), or who have sought refuge in non-reductionism, hoping
the question of realism can thereby be evaded (Woodward). In this paper
I describe a minimal agency view of causation, and place it with
respect to issues of realism and anti-realism. I argue that it is
confusion over two forms of anti-realism, encouraged by inessential
aspects of the mind-dependent analogies, that has seen Pearl and
Woodward shy away from endorsing the anti-realist elements in the
David Lewis claimed that knowledge is elusive. "That is how knowledge is elusive. Examine it, and straightway it vanishes..." He argued that epistemology robs us of our knowledge: "Maybe epistemology is the culprit. Maybe the extraordinary pastime robs us of our knowledge. Maybe we do know a lot in daily life; but maybe when we look hard at our knowledge it goes away."
The aim of this paper is to answer the question: might causation be elusive in a similar sense to that in which knowledge has been claimed to be elusive? Might there be pastimes that rob us of causation too? I will argue for a contextual account of causation and present detailed mechanisms for fixing truth values from the context.
Physics, Intervention and the Concept of Cause
Our interventions in
the world are guided by our folk physical theories of how the world
works. For example, we know that we can move an object by pushing it
with a stick, but not by pushing it with a rope. Nothing could seem
more natural. Yet recent research on primates suggests that this kind
of reasoning is far from trivial. Making use of an account of
theoretical concepts due to Hempel and Carnap, I argue that one of the
central roles of our concept of cause is to mediate inferences between
interventions and folk physical theories.
Interventions and Causation
Asymmetry and Culpability
and Reductive Explanation
One of the most powerful tools in science is the method of
reductive explanation, where we explain the behaviour of a complex
system in terms of the behaviour of the parts from which it is
composed. In order to employ this method we observe the behaviour of
the parts in isolation and use this information to tell us how the
parts will contribute the behaviour of the whole. Clearly then,
the method assumes that something in what we learn when we observe the
parts in isolation remains true when the parts are part of a larger
whole. In particular, since all but the most trivial complex systems
will involve causal interactions between their component parts, we must
assume that something about these causal relations remains constant
from one situation to another. Nancy Cartwright points out that we
certainly donăt assume that it is the behaviour of the parts that
remains constant from one situation to another. Not only would such an
assumption be false, it would trivialise the notion of reduction.
Standard analyses of science try to avoid this kind of problem by
turning their attention from actual behaviour to laws of nature,
dispositions, and counterfactual truths. But we will see that these
approaches cannot make sense of reductive explanation either: the facts
they point to will either not remain constant from one situation to
another, or else they will be useless in predicting the behaviour of
complex systems. In response to this kind of problem Cartwright
introduces the notion of a causal capacity and suggests that it is a
systemăs capacities that remain constant from one situation to another.
However, I will argue that although Cartwright is on the right track,
when it comes to understanding reductive explanation, her notion of
capacities is no better off than the standard analyses it was set to
replace. I will argue that what is assumed to be constant in reductive
explanation are component causal influences. These influences sit
somewhere between Cartwrightăs capacities on the one hand and the
dispositions and counterfactuals that appear in standard analyses on
the other. I finish by considering whether standard counterfactual,
interventionist, or agency analyses of causation have the
resources available to make sense of these component causal influences.
If they do not, then it would seem that they cannot capture a
notion of causation that is fundamental to scientific practice.
[back to timetable]
is the Simplest (and Strongest) Thing
causation in Maxwell theory
The conference will be held at historic Tusculum mansion, 3 Manning St, Potts Point. (Manning St can be seen in the centre of this map. Tusculum is the square-shaped property just south of the double-n in "Manning".)
Full-fee registration is $50, or $70 for both this meeting and Time and Consciousness, provided you register by Thursday 13 July 2006. An additional late registration fee of $10 applies to all registrations received after that date. Student/unwaged registration is $20 (which covers both meetings) or $30 for late registrations. Registration includes morning and afternoon refreshments.
To register, simply download this form and follow the instructions.
(Speakers at either meeting get free registration at both.)
A limited number of rooms at the Macleay Apartments have been reserved for conference attendees and are available at the special conference rate of $125 per night. These are within (very) easy walking distance of the conference. (Please contact John Cusbert at email@example.com if you would like to make a booking.)
There is also plenty of other accommodation in Potts Point and
Kings Cross, within walking distance of the conference. Listed below
are some options. For those on a very tight budget, there are also
numerous backpacker's hostels on Victoria Street.
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The best way to get around downtown Sydney is on foot or via public transport. The conference venue and the accommodation listed on this site are all within a 5-10 minute walk from Kings Cross railway station.
From the Airport
You can catch a train from the Airport to Kings Cross station, though you will need to change trains at Central station. The train fare from the Airport is $10. A taxi from the Airport to Potts Point costs about $28. There are also regular shuttle buses from the airport to accomodation in Potts Point. "Kingsford Smith Airport Bus Service" runs one such service, which costs around $8 per person and departs from outside the arrival hall every half hour. There is no need to make a booking.
Streetside parking is very limited in this area. Listed below are some commercial parking lots within 5-10 minutes walk from the conference venue. Parking charges are around $13 per day.
Please direct all enquiries to John Cusbert at the following