Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What does causation mean?

Causation can mean a couple of different things. Something can be a cause if it guarantees its effect, or if it is a necessary condition  for its effect. When we say smoking causes cancer, we don't mean to say that it is guaranteed that if you smoke you will get cancer. Some people smoke and smoke, and never get cancer.

This is Elizabeth Anscombe's famous essay on the question.

1 comment:

Gyan said...

I would say that some A causes B means that a mechanism be shown to exist between A and B.
In the smoking-cancer example, if one is able to trace a biochemical pathway between smoking and cancer, only then it would be justified to impute cancer on smoking.
Otherwise, it is just correlation when one does epidemiological number-crunching,

The requirement of a mechanism, generalized in modern physics in a more abstract way ("mass-energy causes space-time to curve") is related to Anscombe's examples of causation in everyday life.