Detection of unfaithfulness and robust causal inference

Jiji Zhang*, Peter Spirtes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Much of the recent work on the epistemology of causation has centered on two assumptions, known as the Causal Markov Condition and the Causal Faithfulness Condition. Philosophical discussions of the latter condition have exhibited situations in which it is likely to fail. This paper studies the Causal Faithfulness Condition as a conjunction of weaker conditions. We show that some of the weaker conjuncts can be empirically tested, and hence do not have to be assumed a priori. Our results lead to two methodologically significant observations: (1) some common types of counterexamples to the Faithfulness condition constitute objections only to the empirically testable part of the condition; and (2) some common defenses of the Faithfulness condition do not provide justification or evidence for the testable parts of the condition. It is thus worthwhile to study the possibility of reliable causal inference under weaker Faithfulness conditions. As it turns out, the modification needed to make standard procedures work under a weaker version of the Faithfulness condition also has the practical effect of making them more robust when the standard Faithfulness condition actually holds. This, we argue, is related to the possibility of controlling error probabilities with finite sample size (“uniform consistency”) in causal inference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-271
Number of pages33
JournalMinds and Machines
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

User-Defined Keywords

  • Bayesian network
  • Causal inference
  • Epistemology of causation
  • Faithfulness condition
  • Machine learning
  • Uniform consistency


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