A Defence of Manipulationist Noncausal Explanation: The Case for Intervention Liberalism

Nicholas Emmerson

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Recent years have seen growing interest in modifying interventionist accounts of causal explanation in order to characterise noncausal explanation. However, one surprising element of such accounts is that they have typically jettisoned the core feature of interventionism: interventions. Indeed, the prevailing opinion within the philosophy of science literature suggests that interventions exclusively demarcate causal relationships. This position is so prevalent that, until now, no one has even thought to name it. We call it “intervention puritanism”. In this paper, we mount the first sustained defence of the idea that there are distinctively noncausal explanations which can be characterized in terms of possible interventions; and thus, argue that I-puritanism is false. We call the resultant position “intervention liberalism” (I-liberalism, for short). While many have followed Woodward (Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003) in committing to I-pluralism, we trace support for I-liberalism back to the work of Kim (in: Kim (ed) Supervenience and mind, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1974/1993). Furthermore, we analyse two recent sources of scepticism regarding I-liberalism: debate surrounding mechanistic constitution; and attempts to provide a monistic account of explanation. We show that neither literature provides compelling reasons for adopting I-puritanism. Finally, we present a novel taxonomy of available positions upon the role of possible interventions in explanation: weak causal imperialism; strong causal imperialism; monist intervention puritanism; pluralist intervention puritanism; monist intervention liberalism; and finally, the specific position defended in this paper, pluralist intervention liberalism.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date29 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Nov 2021


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