Causation, Chance and the Rational Significance of Supernatural Evidence

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Price, Huw
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In 'A Subjectivist's Guide to Objective Chance,' David Lewis says that he is "led to wonder whether anyone but a subjectivist is in a position to understand objective chance." The present paper aims to motivate this same Lewisean attitude, and a similar degree of modest subjectivism, with respect to objective causation. The paper begins with Newcomb problems, which turn on an apparent tension between two principles of choice: roughly, a principle sensitive to the causal features of the relevant situation, and a principle sensitive only to evidential factors. Two-boxers give priority to causal beliefs, and one-boxers to evidential beliefs. I note that a similar issue can arise when the modality in question is chance, rather than causation. In this case, the conflict is between decision rules based on credences guided solely by chances, and rules based on credences guided by other sorts of probabilistic evidence. Far from excluding cases of the latter kind, Lewis's Principal Principle explicitly allows for them, in the form of the caveat that credences should only follow beliefs about chances in the absence of "inadmissible evidence." I then exhibit a tension in Lewis's views on these two matters, by presenting a class of decision problems -- some of them themselves Newcomb problems -- in which Lewis's view of the relevance of inadmissible evidence seems in tension with his causal decision theory. I offer a diagnosis for this dilemma, and propose a remedy, based on an extension of a proposal due to Ned Hall and others from the case of chance to that of causation. The remedy suggests a new view of the relation between causal decision theory and evidential decision theory, viz., that they stand to each other much as chance stands to credence, being objective and subjective faces of the same practical coin. This has much the same metaphysical benefits as Lewis's own view of chance, and also throws interesting new light on Newcomb problems, providing an irenic resolution of the apparent disagreement between causal and evidential decision rules.