Normative Facts and Causal Structure

This article challenges a widespread view of causation, which I call causal objectivism, that holds that the causal relation is a wholly non-normative natural relation. Regarding the set of causal facts pertaining to salient social categories such as race and sex, I argue for a dependency of the causal order of things on the moral and political. At the center of my argument is a puzzle about how audit studies, social scientific experiments that approximate the idealized controlled experiment, work to probe the causal significance of social statuses such as race and sex. Essential to these studies as causal studies is the distinction between differences that constitute rather than confound an effect of their variable of interest. When figuring race and sex as causes, I claim that this line embodies judgments of what sorts of differences constitute the wrongful causal influence of these statuses. I thus argue that causal theorizing about these statuses is invariably shot through with ethical theorizing. Furthermore, if, as causal objectivists claim, our best social scientific practices latch onto genuine features of social causation, and we are committed to the place of race and sex in that causal structure, then normative theorizing’s place in scientific causal theorizing entail that normative facts figure in causal structure.

About the Law, Philosophy and Social Theory Colloquium

The Law, Philosophy and Social Theory Colloquium is jointly presented by the University of Michigan Philosophy Department and the School of Law. The public sessions feature presentations by leading or emerging voices in the fields of legal theory, moral or political philosophy to faculty members from the philosophy department, the law school, the history department, the Ross School of Business and the African-American Studies department, among others. The Colloquium is open to the academic community.

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