Dan Sperber, David Premack, and Ann James Premack (eds.)
Causal cognition: A multidisciplinary debate
New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995
Series title: Symposia of the Fyssen Foundation. Fyssen Symposium, 6th January 1993
Abstract  |  EP index  |  CogWeb
Abstract (from the cover)   Contents
An understanding of cause-effect relationships is fundamental to the study of cognition. In this book,... specialists from comparative psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and philosophy present the newest developments in the study of causal cognition and discuss their different perspectives. They reflect on the role and forms of causal knowledge, both in animal and human cognition, on the development of human causal cognition from infancy, and on the relationship between individual and cultural aspects of causal understanding.
Contents  top

List of participants.
Introduction. Dan Sperber.

Part I: Causal representation in animal cognition

Part II: Causal understanding in naive physics Part III: Causal understanding in naive psychology Part IV: Causal understanding in naive biology Part V: Understanding social causality Part VI: The legitimacy of domain-specific causal understandings: Philosophical considerations Part VII: Domain-general approaches to causal understanding Part VIII: Causal understanding in cross-cultural perspective Afterword. David Premack and Ann James Premack.
Biographical notes on the contributors.
Subject index.
I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Chapter Abstracts
Dickinson, Anthony, and David Shanks. Instrumental action and causal representation. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 5-25.

Abstract: (from the chapter) argue that the converging evidence from the concordance between the determinants of human causality judgement and animal performance indicates that the capacity for goal-directed instrumental action is the most basic behavioural marker of causal cognition; just as J. Piaget (1954) argued that the ontological foundations of causal cognition lies in action, so, we should argue, does the phylogenetic origin. (from the book) pursue three questions; 1. are animal actions intentional, mediated by a representation of the action-outcome association; 2. are human causal judgement and instrumental performance affected by the same parameters; 3. are both human causal judgements and animal actions mediated by comparable causal processes.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 
Kummer, Hans. Causal knowledge in animals. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 26-39.

Abstract: (from the chapter) causal knowledge is one way to influence certain parts of one's environment through prediction and action; while all animal species exert some control by using their knowledge of interdependent events, only humans are known to have explicit causal reasoning; (this chapter includes a discussion among D. Hilton, F. Keil, G. Lloyd, R. Nisbett, E. Spelke, L. Talmy and H. Kummer)... long intervals between recurrent events; long intervals between diverse events: paternity; phyletic distribution of weak and strong causal knowledge; strong causal knowledge in primates. (from the book) Kummer accepts the responsibility that psychologists invariably impose upon the biologist: to provide an evolutionary account, in this case of causal knowledge; considers the genetic program for associative learning, arbitrary or 'weak causality' as he prefers, to be universal, found in brainless micro-organisms as well as in humans; argues that beyond this universal program, one must expect to find causal interpretations specific to special environments and modes of life; provides a number of examples of devices that cope with causal relations which would go unrecognized because the critical events are not contiguous.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 
Spelke, Elizabeth S., Ann Phillips, and Amanda L. Woodward. Infants' knowledge of object motion and human action. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 44-78.

Abstract: (from the chapter) (review) the methods and findings of studies of infants' reasoning about inanimate object motion; because human action appears to violate some of the constraints on inanimate objects, (the authors) ask whether infants are sensitive to violations of constraints on objects by considering briefly how they reason about shadows; turn to infants' reasoning about human action; describe a study investigating whether infants understand that human action cannot be predicted solely on the basis of mechanical considerations; turn to the literature on social interaction and communication in infancy as a source of suggestions concerning infants' positive knowledge of human action; present the methods and findings from our own initial research on this topic... do infants suspend the contact principle in reasoning about human action; do infants make positive inferences about human actions; domain-specific systems of knowledge.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 
Baillargeon, Renee, Laura Kotovsky, and Amy Needham. The acquisition of physical knowledge in infancy. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 79-116.

Abstract: (from the chapter) what role does causality play in the development of infants' physical reasoning; the answer to this question naturally depends on how we define causality; on the one hand, we might characterize causal reasoning at a very general level in terms of the construction of conceptual descriptions that capture regularities in the displacements of objects and their interactions with other objects; on the other hand, we might take causality to mean something far more specific associated with the formation of sequences in which one event is understood to bring about another event through the transmission of force or some other generative process... focus primarily on the 1st of the 2 definitions listed; describe the developmental pattern identified in the model and review some of the evidence supporting it; contrast the present approach with that adopted by E. Spelke and her colleagues and by A. Leslie. The authors then discuss the second, more specific, definition of causality mentioned earlier and ask whether this definition, with its focus on notions of force or generative transmission, can shed further light on the findings discussed. Finally, they examine the development of infants' intuitions about three distinct phenomena: support, collision, and unveiling events.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Leslie, Alan M. A theory of agency. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 121-149.

Abstract: (from the chapter) outline a 'tri-partite' theory of our core understanding of Agency (from earlier studies on infants); discuss a theory of the core constraints that organize our early learning about the behaviour of Agents; what I mean by Agency is a particular object; an Agent ...is a type of object and Agency an enduring property of that object; the central part of the theory of cognitive development deals with core cognitive architecture: it characterizes those properties of the information processing system that provide the basis for development, as opposed to those properties that are the result of development... the tripartite theory of Agency begins with the idea that Agents are a class of objects possessing sets of causal properties that distinguish them from other physical objects; the next assumption is that, as a result of evolution, we have become adapted to track these sets of properties and to learn efficiently to interpret the behaviour of these objects in specific ways; (identify) three classes of distinctive properties of Agents that determine their behaviour (mechanical, actional and cognitive properties); (hypothesize) that, as the result of the evolution of a modular design, our core notions of Agency reflect three distinct processing mechanisms arranged hierarchically; succeeding mechanisms interpret Agents' behaviour at succeeding levels of representation; each level corresponds to a different 'subtheory' of Agency; description at one level provides the principal relevant input for inferring the appropriate description at the next level... these three mechanisms with their respective 'subtheories' introduce in turn the three causal paradigms that form the core of human commonsense: 'mechanical causality', 'teleological causality', and 'psychological causality'; (this chapter includes a discussion among S. Carey, D. Hilton, F. Keil, M. Morris, E. Spelke and L. Talmy).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Gelman, Rochel, Frank Durgin, and Lisa Kaufman. Distinguishing between animates and inanimates: Not by motion alone. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 150-184.

Abstract: (from the chapter) present an account of the origins and development of our ability to classify moveable entities as either animate or inanimate; the account builds on the known abilities of young infants to find three-dimensional objects ...and to reason about some of their fundamental physical characteristics; argue that infants' abilities to find and reason about objects are complemented by skeletal causal principles; our account ...focuses attention on abstract causal principles... conceptual coherence: not by motion alone; adult responses to motion paths; preschool children can assign animate and inanimate predicates to still photographs of novel stimuli.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Premack, David, and Ann James Premack. Intention as psychological cause. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 185-199.

Abstract: (from the chapter) human complexity consists in having evolved theories that seek to explain (perceptual) invariances; human explanation takes place in the context of 'natural' theories which have three components; one identifies the items to which the theory applies, another specifies the changes to which class members are subject, and a third explains the changes; (present) a theory of human social competence according to which (infants) interpret self-propelled objects that pursue goals as having intentions; these intentional objects engage in interactions to which value is attributed; they reciprocate value, join groups, and take possessions; the theory explains these interactions in terms of mental states: perceive, desire, and belief; human social competence was designed to understand this set of interactions, and, we suggest, carries out this objective, using the theory we have described... self-propelled and goal-directed; summary of intentional system; social system (value theory, intention as internal cause, reading intentions produces compliance, reciprocation, power: group vs possession); theory of mind.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Atran, Scott. Causal constraints on categories and categorical constraints on biological reasoning across cultures. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 205-233.

Abstract: (from the chapter) (discuss) aspects of domain-specific thinking, including categorization and causal inferencing from conceptual categories, within and across cultures; the focus is on the structure of categories in the domain of biology, such as the organization of taxonomic relations that hold between CAT and MAMMAL or OAK and TREE; in particular, the extent to which this categorical structure constrains inferences that causally relate biological taxa to one another, and the extent to which (culturally specific) belief systems, or 'theories,' are able to modify that structure and hence change the nature of biological reasoning are examined... from folk biology to science; American and Mayan folk taxonomies: categories and inference; the living-kind module; holy theories vs knowledge in pieces. (from the book) (argues) for an innate biological domain on 3 claims: all living things are classified hierarchically, have an essentialist nature, and are explained in teleological terms.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Keil, Frank C. The growth of causal understandings of natural kinds. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 234-267.

Abstract: (from the chapter) although we all know that things are not always as they seem, confusions between appearance and reality have caused many problems in the cognitive sciences, particularly in models of concepts and concept structure; however, even though metaphysics and epistemology must be distinguished, theories of knowledge cannot avoid making some commitments about the nature of the world itself; this discussion of causal understandings of one type of natural kind--living things--starts with some assumptions about natural kinds themselves... (this chapter includes a discussion among D. Andler, S. Atran, S. Carey and R. Gelman)... promiscuous realism--the proliferation problem; causal beliefs and core properties; association and augmentation; dualism and development; primal pluralism: the case of teleological explanation; behavior vs biology; assessing artefacts; characterizing construals; properties, powers, and kinds; global vs local explanations.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Carey, Susan. On the origin of causal understanding. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 268-308.

Abstract: (from the chapter) (argue) that psychological research on causal reasoning must include studies that characterize the basic causal mechanisms in terms of which people explain the world around them; believe that this early knowledge is the input to the construction of a first intuitive biology; believe that children's early knowledge of animals does not include explicit biological causal principles and is therefore pre-theoretical (in the sense of pre-biological theory); argued that ...aspects of this first biology emerge from a 1st-order cognitive module that is an intuitive psychology... cognitive domains; cognitive module as analogous to an input module; cognitive domains vs cross-cultural universals; cognitive modules as intuitive theories; relations between the two views of cognitive modules; biology as a cognitive domain; critique of the D. Sperber-S. Atran view; biology as a framework theory; does folk biology emerge from folk psychology... (this chapter includes a discussion among S. Carey, R. Hinde, P. Boyer, F. Keil, R. Nisbett, E. Spelke and S. Atran).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Hirschfeld, Lawrence A. Anthropology, psychology, and the meanings of social causality. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 313-350.

Abstract: (from the chapter) it is hardly controversial to claim that the social environment shapes human behaviour and that humans everywhere recognize this to be so; (suggest that) cultural variation exists, for example, in the extent to which parents attempt to shape their children's development by 'managing' the social milieu in which the child-rearing occurs; there is also considerable variation how members of different cultures talk about this social environment, variation in the social entities that members recognize, and variation in the social consequences that members expect such entities to have; further, how children come to acquire knowledge in, how they begin to grasp the meaning of, the social environment--in short, how they come to understand social causality--is crucial to children's explanations of human action; these are some of the issues that will be explored... by drawing insights from both anthropology (on the nature of the social arena) and psychology (on how understanding is represented), this exploration will yield a more comprehensive description of social causality; demonstrate that mental and social causalities are distinct, in terms of both mental representation and course of development; (this chapter includes a discussion among P. Boyer, F. Keil, L. Hirschfeld and G. Lewis).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Hacking, Ian. The looping effects of human kinds. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 351-394.

Abstract: (from the chapter) (discuss) feedback effects in cognition and culture, and (contribute) to the study of what I call 'making up people' (Hacking, 1986); my theme is ...philosophical, for it is about self-reflection; it is about how a causal understanding, if known by those who are understood, can change their character, can change the kind of people that they are; (discuss) my own type of causal understanding; fix on a certain type of practical causality; by human kinds I mean kinds of people and their behaviour which (it is hoped) can enter into practical laws--laws that if we knew them we would use to change present conditions, and predict what would ensue... (this chapter includes a discussion among S. Atran, S. Carey, D. Hilton, P. Jacob, F. Keil, A. Leslie and M. Morris).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Pettit, Philip. Causality at higher levels. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 399-431.

Abstract: (from the chapter) there are two different problems to which causality gives rise from the point of view of the psychological and social sciences, and indeed from the point of view of common sense--from the point of view, for example, of the commonplace psychology and sociology that we practise in everyday life; 1 is the epistemological problem as to how causality is understood and detected within these higher-level forms of inquiry; the other is the more fundamental ontological problem as to whether there is really anything there at all for these forms of research to unearth--whether there is really such a thing as higher-level causality; deals with the ontological issue and bears only indirectly on the epistemological question... formulates the physicalist doctrine against the background of which the question arises; the architecture of instrumental control--control at different levels--that this physicalism allows is discussed; examines how far this architecture of control is mirrored in an architecture of causality: how far causality, like control, can be found at higher levels; (argues) that we can reasonably countenance higher-level as well as lower-level causality and that the special sciences are not at any particular disadvantage in the exploration of causal matters; (this chapter includes a discussion among D. Andler, F. Doring, P. Jacob, M. Kistler, Sperber and P. Pettit).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Jacob, Pierre. The role of content in the explanation of behaviour. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 432-458.

Abstract: (from the book) reviews the main proposals developed in contemporary philosophy of mind regarding the causal role of content; a clear implication of Jacob's discussions is that we do not really know to what extent and by what means common-sense psychological understanding ('theory of mind") succeeds in being a genuine understanding. (from the chapter) Two common-sense theses of unequal strength on mental causation will be distinguished; the weaker thesis is that beliefs are causes, and the stronger thesis is that intentional properties of beliefs are causal properties. Jacob suggests reasons why a physicalist might view the stronger thesis with suspicion (token physicalism, common sense and mental causation, mere Cambridge changes and pseudo-processes). He then examines and criticises three strategies designed to save the stronger thesis (the counterfactual and nomist strategies, and the program explanation model).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Cheng, Patricia W. and Yunnwen Lien. The role of coherence in differentiating genuine from spurious causes. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 463-494. (Experimental report.)

Abstract: (from the chapter) illustrated the top-down influence of superordinate causal knowledge; even when conditional contrasts cannot be computed, people are able to make a systematic distinction between a genuine cause and a spurious cause; according to the power view, a statistical relevance relation is judged as causal if one knows of an underlying power or mechanism; proposed that an underlying power means a causal relation that implies a relevance relation at a more abstract level than the target relevance relation; when the target relation is consistent with the more abstract contrast it will be accepted as causal, but when it is not consistent with any such contrast it will be less likely to be accepted as causal... the primary task in this experiment was to judge whether or not a target relevance relation is causal (in a categorization task); (participants were) 96 undergraduate students... (this chapter includes a discussion among F. Keil, M. Morris, P. Cheng and Y. Lien).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Hilton, Denis J. Logic and language in causal explanation. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 495-529.

Abstract: (from the chapter) argued that explicit recognition of the interpersonal function of explanations enables a better understanding of the logic of causal explanation; distinguish interpersonal relevance from truth as contributors to the quality of a given explanation; distinguish the cognitive process of causal scenario generation from the conversational process of interpersonal explanation; distinguish causal explanation from epistemic justification; distinguish the explanation of general and particular events; (present) a conversational model of causal explanation based on counterfactual reasoning, contrast cases, and conversational constraints; this model argues that prototypic cases of causal explanation resolve puzzles as to why an event occurs in a target case, rather than in a given contrast case... constructing causal scenarios vs giving causal explanations (the construction of mental models of events: the example of the "Challenger" disaster; probability, relevance, and levels of explanation; contextual effects on explanation: causal discounting vs causal backgrounding; probability and relevance of goal-states and preconditions as explanations; contrasts and the amount of explanation required; 'philosophical' and 'conversational' discourse: implications for judging conjunctive explanations; causal chains, scenarios, and explanatory relevance); particular and general explanation; causal explanation and epistemic justification... (this chapter includes a discussion among D. Andler, R. Gelman, P. Jacob, F. Keil, L. Talmy and D. Hilton).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Lloyd, Geoffrey. Ancient Greek concepts of causation in comparativist perspective. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 536-556.

Abstract: (from the book) illustrates the wealth and exigency of an interpretive historical approach; disentangles the legal, philosophical, and scientific sources of Greek ideas of causation, and their evolution from the pre-Socratics to the Stoics and Epicureans; compares Greek and classical Chinese ideas of causation; argues that modern concepts of causation cannot be appropriately used to render either the Greek or Chinese views; questions the relevance to the historian's task of the kind of cognitive approach illustrated in most contributions to this volume.

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Lewis, Gilbert. The articulation of circumstance and causal understandings. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 557-576.

Abstract: (from the chapter) (discusses) the causal understanding of illness; the data come mainly from work in Papua New Guinea, and the discussion is concerned with what people do in naturally occurring circumstances; (talks) about reasoning in practice by adults who come from a culture which maintains belief in the presence in nature of powers and spirits that can respond to human behaviour; discuss a society in which people tend to consider things outside rather than inside the body to explain illness... the direction of explanatory effort; cause by description or by interpretation; shifts of attention; the recognition of implicit relevance... (this chapter includes a discussion among P. Jacob, F. Keil and G. Lewis).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Morris, Michael W., Richard E. Nisbett, and Kaiping Peng. Causal attribution across domains and cultures. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 577-614.

Abstract: (from the chapter) review proposals about attributional patterns and mechanisms from various disciplines with attention to questions of generality; attribution research can be divided into studies of verbal explanation of causality ...and of visual perception of causality; review attribution theory in social psychology and examine evidence from ethnographic and cross-cultural studies that question the universal validity of the theory; present a proposal about the cross-domain and cross-cultural generality of attributional mechanisms; describe two studies of causal explanation that support the hypothesis that Americans and Chinese tend to attribute social behaviour to different types of causes (about culturally general mechanisms for causal perception)... review early research by Gestalt theorists and recent research by modular theorists about mechanisms for visual perception of causality; refine the proposal about domain-specific and culturally specific mechanisms; describe 2 studies of causal perception which support the hypothesis that social events but not physical events are attributed differently; describe some findings that are consistent with proposals about culturally general mechanisms for causal perception; (this chapter includes a discussion among F. Keil, D. Premack and M. Morris).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Boyer, Pascal. Causal understandings in cultural representations: Cognitive constraints on inferences from cultural input. Sperber, Premack, & Premack (1995), pp. 615-649.

Abstract: (from the chapter) focuses on a domain which has always been central to anthropological discussions of causation and causal concepts, that of religious 'magical' assumptions; religious concepts and assumptions seem to display obvious cross-cultural variation, perhaps in a more salient way than other types of cultural representations... anthropological and psychological data are used to provide an answer to a series of five questions, with each answer being the starting point for the next; are concepts of causation culturally specific; what is the structure of early causal understandings; what is the structure of the causal understandings implied by religious categories; what is the role of early intuitive principles in the treatment of the cultural input; what does this tell us about causal understandings in culture; (this chapter includes a discussion among F. Keil, A. Leslie, G. Lloyd, L. Talmy and P. Boyer).

I.  |  II  |  III  |  IV  |  V  |  VI  |  VII  |  VIII  |  top  |  CogSci Bibliography  |  CogSci index 

Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles