Causality, or: How i Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Working Definitions
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Causal relations show us mechanisms that are responsible for events, give us control and provide proof for hypotheses. But causality is often badly defined and used in an intuitive way. Different disciplines of science use different definition, and often no definition at all. This causes confusion that can lead to the wrong conclusions. This confusion can also be used in order to hide or distract from the real causes of a event. In this thesis I discuss the conceptual problems with causality that exist in philosophy. Many of them have, even after decades of discussion, not been properly solved. However, in most practical cases we can state conditions under which the problems can be ignored, and this allows us to ignore the conceptual problems for most practical purposes. Combining the many definitions found in the literature, and taking the conceptual problems into consideration, I have composed the following definition of a cause: “a cause is any member of any actual set of plausible conditions that are jointly sufficient to produce the effect. That the cause leads or contributes to the effect has to follow logically from the relevant laws.” Within this definition we can distinguish several types of causes. These types of causes turn out to be the most important distinction to make if we want to draw conclusions from a cause-effect relationship. Examples from different disciplines of science show that determining the type of cause is often not easy, and authors can have strong incentives to misrepresent causal strengths. I have built a decision tree to help the reader decide what kind of cause he is dealing with, and to give a qualitative indication of a causal strength that can be determined from this relationship. The causal tree works for cases where all the causes of the effect are known to the user of the tree. Causality needs a proper definition, which respects the conceptual problems that are relevant to the topic. An intuitive notion of causality is almost a guarantee for trouble. Even more important is the determination of the type of cause that we are dealing with, and the causal strength that comes with it. This cannot be properly determined without taking at least the most important other causes in the system into consideration.