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The principle of common cause and indeterminism: a review

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We offer a review of some of the most influential views on the status of Reichenbach’s Principle of the Common Cause (PCC) for genuinely indeterministic systems. We first argue that the PCC is properly a conjunction of two distinct claims, one metaphysical and another methodological. Both claims can and have been contested in the literature, but here we simply assume that the metaphysical claim is correct, in order to focus our analysis on the status of the methodological claim. We briefly review the most entrenched or classical positions, including Salmon’s ‘interactive forks’, van Fraassen’s scepticism, and Cartwright’s generalisation of the fork criterion. We then go on to review the results of the ‘Budapest school’ on the existence of formally defined screening-off events for any correlation —by means of the ideas of probability space extensibility and (Reichenbachian common cause) completability. We distinguish the Budapest doctrine clearly from any of the classical conceptions, and thus present an overall framework for discussions of causal inference in quantum mechanics. The framework, however preliminary, is essential work for a thorough assessment of the conditions under which PCC may be a reliable tool for causal inference in a genuinely probabilistic (indeterministic) context.

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