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Causal Understanding: Empirical and Theoretical Foundations for a New Approach

A Four-Year Interdisciplinary Project, 2004-2008

Sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Causal thinking plays a pivotal role in our understanding of our surroundings in almost all contexts - physical, psychological, moral, social, and historical. Given its importance, it is not surprising that questions about causal knowledge and causal reasoning have become a particular focus of attention in recent psychology. Much of the work in this area draws heavily on philosophy in formulating competing models for testing causal understanding. However, the interpretation of findings obtained so far, as well as the development of new empirical research paradigms, are hampered by the lack of a common focus between philosophers and psychologists. The 2004-08 Project on Causal Understanding aimed to address this problem by bringing together philosophers and psychologists to try and devise a substantive theoretical and empirical framework within which to conduct research on the nature of causal understanding... [from the Project Statement]

An archive of project seminars can be found here.

Project Workshops:

Tool Use and Causal Cognition

4-6 July 2008, University of Warwick

Speakers: John Campbell (Berkeley), Alessandro Farne (INSERM), Georg Goldenberg (Munich), Alex Kacelnik (Oxford), Deborah Kelemen (Boston), Jeffrey Lockman (Tulane), Amy Needham (Duke), Laurie Santos (Yale), Charles Spence (Oxford), Elisabetta Visalberghi (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche), James Woodward (Caltech)

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Understanding Counterfactuals / Understanding Causation

15-16 December 2007, University of Warwick.

Speakers: Sarah Beck (Psychology, Birmingham); Dorothy Edgington (Philosophy, Oxford); Christopher Hitchcock (Philosophy, Caltech); David Mandel (Psychology, Toronto); Peter Menzies (Philosophy, Macquarie); Josef Perner & Eva Rafetseder (Psychology, Salzburg); Johannes Roessler (Philosophy, Warwick); David Sobel (Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown); James Woodward (Philosophy, Caltech)

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Understanding Perception and Causation

12-13 May 2007, University of Warwick. Organised by Hemdat Lerman and Johannes Roessler.

Speakers: John Campbell (Philosophy, Berkeley), Bill Child (Philosophy, Oxford), Martin Doherty (Psychology, Stirling), Christoph Hoerl (Philosophy, Warwick), Teresa McCormack (Psychology, Belfast), Mike Martin (Philosophy, UCL) and Liz Robinson (Psychology, Warwick).

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One-day workshop on the Psychology of Counterfactuals

University of Birmingham, 10th September 2006. organized by Sarah Beck (Birmingham)

Speakers: John Clibbens (Plymouth), Josef Perner & Eva Rafetseder (Salzburg), Rob Guttentag (Greensboro), Sarah Beck (Birmingham)

Causal Understanding and Intuitive Physics

University of Warwick, 1st-3rd April 2005

Speakers: Josep Call (Psychology, MPI Leipzig), John Campbell (Philosophy, Berkeley), Alison Gopnik (Psychology, Berkeley), Daniel Povinelli (Psychology, Louisiana), Brian Scholl (Psychology, Yale), Laura Schulz (Psychology, MIT), Su-Hua Wang (Psychology, Santa Cruz), James Woodward (Philosophy, Caltech)

supported by the British Academy.

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Causal Understanding - Exploratory Workshop

Girton College, Cambridge, 3rd-4th April 2004

Speakers: Bill Child (Philosophy, Oxford), Josep Call (Max Planck Institute, Leipzig), Anthony Dickinson (Psychology, Cambridge), György Gergely (Psychology, Budapest). Anthony Marcel (MRC-CBU, Cambridge), Josef Perner (Psychology, Salzburg), James Russell (Psychology, Cambridge), Anne Schlottman (Psychology, UCL)

sponsored by the AHRB Project on Consciousness and Self Consciousness and the Humanities Research Centre, University of Warwick.

Project Directors

Christoph Hoerl,
Philosophy, Warwick University

Teresa McCormack,
Psychology, Queen's University Belfast

Johannes Roessler,
Philosophy, Warwick University


Project Fellow
Stephen Butterfill
Philosophy, Warwick University

Project PhD Student
Patrick Burns
Psychology, Queen's University Belfast

Project Publications:

Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation

Perception, Causation and Objectivity

Tool Use and Causal Cognition