The Origins and
Functions of Causal Thinking
Introduction :: Future
Events :: Past Events
This project aims to improve our
understanding of the structure, functions and possible
origins of causal concepts in human thought, by thinking
about questions such as these:
What are the advantages to creatures like
us in thinking in causal terms?
In what ways do these advantages depend on (a)
characteristics of us and (b) characteristics of the
world we inhabit (bearing in mind that these two aspects
are likely to be closely intertwined)?
What can be said from this perspective about the
relation between causal concepts and other 'modal'
aspects of thought, such as counterfactual and
probabilistic reasoning; and more generally, the
relationship between these modal aspects of thought and
the temporal aspects of thought, experience, knowledge
How do these issues connect with significant
temporal aspects of the world we inhabit, such as the
We want to address these issues in an
interdisciplinary way, bringing together insights from
philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. One
significant aspect of our approach is likely to involve
formal modelling of idealised 'cognisers' in idealised
environments, to address the issue of the role and relevance
of causal notions for such 'creatures'.
The philosophical perspective is
intended to be neutral, at least initially, on issues
concerning the 'metaphysics' of causality -- e.g., on
whether causal relations are 'discovered' or 'imposed' by
human thought. (We anticipate that the project will throw
some light on these issues.)
The project began with a initial
workshop in Venice, 13--15 May 2004, which aimed to
establish a core research group, to achieve a common core
'competence' by reading and discussing some key papers, and
to clarify the issues to be addressed at later meetings.
The Venice Workshop
Left to right: Dave Lagnado, Arif Ahmed, Christoph
Hoerl, Jim Woodward, Iain Martel, Brad Weslake, Alison
Gopnik, Adam Elga, Matthias Frisch, Peter Menzies, David
Danks, Maria Carla Galavotti, Chris Hitchcock, Paolo
Garbolino, Huw Price.
Not present: Margherita Benzi,
Stefania Caldi, Raffaella Campaner, John Campbell, Vittorio
Girotto, Simone Gozzano, Claudio Pizzi, Luca Surian, Nikola
and large versions of the
photo also available.
Tentative schedule of future events
Agency and Intervention
Organised by Jim and Chris
Late 2005/Early 2006
Causation, Time and Physics
Organised by Huw and Peter
Causation in the Special Sciences
Organised by Maria Carla and Paolo
Time to be confirmed
History of the concept of causation
Organised by Arif
Venice :: 13-14 May 2004
An interdisciplinary research workshop organised by the
for Time, University
of Sydney, and the Faculty
of Arts and Design [in
University, in association with the Department
of Philosophy, University
of Bologna. The schedule was as follows.
Causation and intervention
Introduced and chaired by Jim
Is causation found or made? Perspectivalism and the
problem of time-asymmetry.
Introduced and chaired by
Huw Price, University of Sydney.
Introduced and chaired by
Christopher Hitchcock, Caltech.
Causation in context.
Introduced and chaired by Peter
Menzies, Macquarie University.
Causation, intervention, association and
mechanismpsychological approaches to causation.
Introduced and chaired by Alison
Intervention, temporal order and causal
Introduced and chaired by Dave
The usefulness of causal beliefs.
Introduced and chaired by David
Chaired by Maria
Carla Galavotti, University of Bologna.
13 May, 2004.
Send corrections and additions to Brad
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at the Centre)