A Causal Model Theory of the Meaning of Cause, Enable, and Prevent
Version of Record online: 29 JAN 2009
Copyright © 2009 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 33, Issue 1, pages 21–50, January/February 2009
How to Cite
Sloman, S., Barbey, A. K. and Hotaling, J. M. (2009), A Causal Model Theory of the Meaning of Cause, Enable, and Prevent. Cognitive Science, 33: 21–50. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2008.01002.x
- Issue online: 29 JAN 2009
- Version of Record online: 29 JAN 2009
- Received 31 July 2007; received in revised form 15 January 2008; accepted 25 January 2008
- Casual reasoning;
- Bayesian networks;
- Structural equations;
- Semantics of cause
The verbs cause, enable, and prevent express beliefs about the way the world works. We offer a theory of their meaning in terms of the structure of those beliefs expressed using qualitative properties of causal models, a graphical framework for representing causal structure. We propose that these verbs refer to a causal model relevant to a discourse and that “A causes B” expresses the belief that the causal model includes a link from A to B. “A enables/allows B” entails that the model includes a link from A to B, that A represents a category of events necessary for B, and that an alternative cause of B exists. “A prevents B” entails that the model includes a link from A to B and that A reduces the likelihood of B. This theory is able to account for the results of four experiments as well as a variety of existing data on human reasoning.