Causal Analysis in Theory and Practice

June 1, 2007

Hunting Causes with Cartwright

Filed under: Discussion,Nancy Cartwright,Opinion — judea @ 1:50 pm

Judea Pearl writes:

A new book on causality came out last month, Hunting Causes and Using Them by Nancy Cartwright (Cambridge University Press, 2007.) Cartwright is a renown philosopher of science who has given much thought to the methodology of econometrics, and I was keenly curious to read her take on the current state of causality in economics.

Cartwright summarizes what economists such as Heckman, Hoover, Leroy and Hendry said and wrote about causal analysis in economics, she occasionally criticizes their ideas, and further discusses related works by philosophers such as Hausman and Woodward, but what I found surprising is that she rarely tells us how WE OUGHT to think about causes and effects in economic models. Given that economists admit to the chaotic state of affairs in their court, the role of philosophy should be, in my opinion, to instill clarity and provide coherent unification of the field. This I could not find in the book.

Additionally, and this naturally is my main concern, Cartwright rejects the surgery method as the basis of counterfactual and causal analysis and, in so doing, unveils and reinforces some of the most serious misconceptions that have hindered causal analysis in the past half century (see my earlier posting on Heckman's articles.)

I will focus on the latter point, for this will illuminate others.


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