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Keywords:

  • Casual reasoning;
  • Bayesian networks;
  • Structural equations;
  • Semantics of cause

Abstract

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.