Saturday, June 28, 2003

Causal Explanation and Inference in the Law

What is the relationship between causal explanations and ordinary inference in legal proceedings?

Judea Pearl has developed a powerful theory about the importance of causal explanations. See, e.g., J. Pearl, Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference (2000). He believes that, for at least certain purposes, causal reasoning is superior to associationist reasoning. He thinks the superiority of causal explanations is particularly evident or pronounced when human beings are faced with the problem of intervening in the world.

Question: Is there a legitimate place for non-causal explanations -- and, by extension, for inference not based on causal explanations and hypotheses? Are legal proceedings distinguishable {forgive the legal parlance!} --, are the factual issues in legal proceedings generally fundamentally different from the sorts of situations, questions, and tasks that Pearl posits and considers in his discussions of causality -- are such issues in legal contexts generally different, perhaps, because, in either some or most some legal proceedings, the problem confronting the adjudicator(s) is generally not how to intervene in the world to efficaciously control or influence the course of future events?

Or is it the case that Pearl's argument (which, as I say, is extraordinarily powerful) has broader and deeper epistemological (and ontological) roots, roots that suggest or say that associationist explanations -- explanations that {let me stipulate} are bereft of causal hypotheses and that putatively rest solely on observed or hypothesized regularities or observations --, is it the case that "pure" associationist explanations cannot support valid inference?

What say you all?

  • The question I pose here is an important one: it goes to the heart of the question of the nature of inference and the possibility of rational regulation of or deliberation about inference.
  • I thank you in advance for your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

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