Dear Cambridge Philosophers of Science,

Tomorrow, 12 October, is the first meeting of CamPoS for the year.  Our 
speaker is Georgina Statham from Philosophy, talking on 'Using organic 
chemistry to probe the limits of interventionism'.  Her abstract is 

Brian Pitts

‘A chemical reaction is a causal process in which one set of chemical 
species is converted into another set of chemical species. Chemists are 
able to intervene on this process, influencing the product distribution 
by manipulating a range of variables. This process looks very much like 
interventionist causation; at a cursory glance, chemical reactions 
therefore seem well suited for interventionist causal modeling. I test 
this supposition, using James Woodward's interventionist theory of 
causation to model three different ways that chemists are able to 
manipulate the reaction conditions in order to control the outcome of a 
reaction. These consist in manipulations to the reaction kinetics, 
thermodynamics, and whether the kinetics or thermodynamics predominates. 
It is possible to construct interventionist causal models of these kinds 
of manipulation, and therefore to account for them using Woodward's 
theory. However, I show that there is an alternate, more illuminating 
way of thinking about the third kind of reaction control, according to 
which chemists are actually manipulating which causal system is 
instantiated. Our ability to manipulate which system is instantiated is 
an important part of our ability to control the world, as is therefore 
especially relevant to interventionism. Thus, considering examples from 
organic chemistry leads to the identification of an important extension 
to Woodward's theory.’

J. Brian Pitts
Senior Research Associate
Faculty of Philosophy
University of Cambridge

Ph.D., Philosophy/History & Philosophy of Science, University of Notre 
Ph.D., Physics, University of Texas at Austin

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