Two Kinds of Causal Explanation

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Abstract

To give a causal explanation is to give information about causal history. But a vast amount of causal history lies behind anything that happens, far too much to be included in any intelligible explanation. This is the Problem of Limitation for explanatory information. To cope with this problem, explanations must select for what is relevant to and adequate for answering particular inquiries. In the present paper this idea is used in order to distinguish two kinds of causal explanation, on the grounds of systematic differences in their conditions of relevance and adequacy. It is further argued that these two forms of causal explanation are interdependent and their interaction provides an instrument through which causal knowledge is acquired and enhanced. What we understand causation in the world to be is neither unconditioned regularity, nor counterfactual dependence, but the sum of correct answers to explanatory inquiries of these two interdependent kinds.

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