Causal Dispositions and Transitivity in Causal Chains


A number of popular philosophical and psychological theories that model causality in terms of causal dependency assume that causal relations in chains are transitive. When A causes B, and B causes C it typically follows that A also causes C. In contrast, dispositional theories focus on intrinsic causal properties (i.e., causal dispositions) of the involved participants of causal relations. According to this account, a causal chain is transitive only when A originally has a disposition towards C. We present an experiment that contrasts scenarios with transitive chains (A disposes towards C) and scenarios with intransitive chains (A does not dispose towards C), according to the dispositional account. In line with dispositional theories of causation, we found a strong dissociation between cause-effect judgments (A causes C) and probability judgments, P(C|A), in intransitive scenarios but not in transitive scenarios. Across both types of scenarios judgments for single relations did not differ.

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