, Volume 79, Supplement 10, pp 1819–1832 | Cite as

High-Level Exceptions Explained

  • Michael Strevens
Original Article


Why are causal generalizations in the higher-level sciences “inexact”? That is, why do they have apparent exceptions? This paper offers one explanation: many causal generalizations cite as their antecedent—the \(F\) in \(Fs\,\, {\textit{are}}\,\, G\)—a property that is not causally relevant to the consequent, but which is rather “entangled” with a causally relevant property. Entanglement is a relation that may exist for many reasons, and that allows of exceptions. Causal generalizations that specify entangled but causally irrelevant antecedents therefore tolerate exceptions.


Causal Connection Causal Claim Shield Volcano Causal Relevance Causal Generalization 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thank you to Laura Franklin-Hall, the editors, and two anonymous referees.


  1. Armstrong, D. M. (1983). What is a law of nature? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Davidson, D. (1967). Causal relations. Journal of Philosophy, 64, 691–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Earman, J. (1986). A primer on determinism. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Earman, J., Roberts, J. T., & Smith, S. (2002). Ceteris paribus lost. Erkenntnis, 57, 281–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fodor, J. A. (1989). Making mind matter more. Philosophical Topics, 17, 59–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gelman, S. A. (2003). The essential child: Origins of essentialism in everyday thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hausman, D. M. (1992). The inexact and separate science of economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Horgan, T. (1989). Mental quausation. Philosophical Perspectives, 3, 47–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hull, D. (1978). A matter of individuality. Philosophy of Science, 45, 335–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hüttemann, A. (2014). Ceteris paribus laws in physics. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9637-6.
  11. Lange, M. (2002). Who’s afraid of ceteris paribus laws? Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love them. Erkenntnis, 57, 407–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lepore, E., & Loewer, B. (1987). Mind matters. Journal of Philosophy, 84, 630–642.Google Scholar
  13. Lipton, P. (1999). All else being equal. Philosophy, 74, 155–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Nickel, B. (2010). Ceteris paribus laws: Generics and natural kinds. Philosophers’ Imprint, 10(6), 1–25.
  15. Nickel, B. (2014). The role of kinds in the semantics of ceteris paribus laws. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9638-5.
  16. Pemberton, J., & Cartwright, N. (2014). Ceteris paribus laws need machines to generate them. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9639-4.
  17. Reutlinger, A. (2014). Do statistical laws solve the problem of provisos? Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9640-y.
  18. Reutlinger, A., Schurz, G., & Hüttemann, A. (2011). Ceteris paribus laws. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Spring 2011 edition. Stanford: Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI.Google Scholar
  19. Roberts, J. T. (2014). Ceteris paribus law statements as vague, self-referential, self-locating, statistical, and perfectly in order. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9641-x.
  20. Schrenk, M. (2014). Better best systems and the issue of ceteris paribus laws. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9642-9.
  21. Schurz, G. (2002). Ceteris paribus laws: Classification and deconstruction. Erkenntnis, 57, 351–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schurz, G. (2014). Ceteris paribus and ceteris rectis laws: Content and causal role. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9643-8.
  23. Spohn, W. (2002). Laws, ceteris paribus conditions, and the dynamics of belief. Erkenntnis, 57, 373–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Strevens, M. (2000). The essentialist aspect of naive theories. Cognition, 74, 149–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Strevens, M. (2008a). Depth: An account of scientific explanation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Strevens, M. (2008b). Physically contingent laws and counterfactual support. Philosopher’s Imprint, 8(8), 1–20.
  27. Strevens, M. (2011). Probability out of determinism. In C. Beisbart & S. Hartmann (Eds.), Probabilities in physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Strevens, M. (2012). Ceteris paribus hedges: Causal voodoo that works. Journal of Philosophy, 109, 652–675.Google Scholar
  29. Sulloway, F. J. (1996). Born to rebel: Birth order, family dynamics, and creative lives. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  30. Unterhuber, M. (2014). Do ceteris paribus laws exist? A regularity-based best system analysis. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9645-6.
  31. Wang, Y., Vera, L., Fischer, W. H., & Montminy, M. (2009). The CREB coactivator CRTC2 links hepatic ER stress and fasting gluconeogenesis. Nature, 460, 534–537.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations