Revisiting causal pluralism: Intention, process, and dependency in cases of double prevention

Huseina Thanawala,Christopher D. Erb


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Causal pluralism proposes that humans can reason about causes and effects in terms of both dependency and process relations, depending on the scenario. Support for this view is provided by responses to double prevention scenarios in which an affector attempts to bring about an outcome, a preventer attempts to prevent the outcome, and a double preventer intervenes to stop the preventer’s prevention attempt. Previous research indicates that reasoners award the affector high causal ratings regardless of whether their action was executed intentionally, whereas reasoners only award the double preventer high causal ratings when the double preventer acts intentionally. These results were interpreted as evidence that intentional actions prompt reasoners to differentially weight separately maintained representations of dependency and process relations. The current study presents three challenges to this causal pluralism account by (1) questioning whether intentionality only affects causal ratings by increasing the weighting placed on dependency relations during reasoning (Experiments 1-2), (2) presenting evidence consistent with the possibility that reasoners interpret the double preventer’s action in terms of a process relation (Experiments 1-2), and (3) demonstrating that an unintentional double preventer can receive significantly higher causal ratings than an intentional affector when the order in which the characters act is altered (Experiments 3-4). These results underscore the need to revisit fundamental questions regarding how reasoners form, maintain, and reason over representations of causal scenarios featuring intentional actions.
Causal pluralism,Causal reasoning,Double prevention,Force theory,Intentionality
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