Date of Original Version

2015

Type

Article

Abstract or Description

In many people, caffeine causes slight muscle tremors, particularly in their hands. In general, the Caffeine → Muscle Tremors causal connection is a noisy one: someone can drink coffee and experience no hand shaking, and there are many other factors that can lead to muscle tremors. Now suppose that Jane drinks several cups of coffee and then notices that her hands are trembling; an obvious question is: did this instance of coffee drinking cause this instance of hand-trembling? Structurally similar questions arise throughout everyday life: Did this pressing of the ‘k’ key cause this change in the pixels on the computer monitor? Did these episodes of smoking cause this lung cancer? Did this studying cause this test score? And so on. These questions all ask about singular causation in a particular situation, in contrast with general causation across multiple cases. They are thus particularly salient in situations in which we care about that specific case, as in many legal contexts, social interactions, physical explanations of anomalous events, and more.

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Philosophy Commons

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Published In

Oxford handbook of causal reasoning; M. R. Waldmann (Ed.), forthcoming.