A principled approach to defining actual causation

Synthese 195 (2):835-862 (2018)
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Abstract

In this paper we present a new proposal for defining actual causation, i.e., the problem of deciding if one event caused another. We do so within the popular counterfactual tradition initiated by Lewis, which is characterised by attributing a fundamental role to counterfactual dependence. Unlike the currently prominent definitions, our approach proceeds from the ground up: we start from basic principles, and construct a definition of causation that satisfies them. We define the concepts of counterfactual dependence and production, and put forward principles such that dependence is an unnecessary but sufficient condition for causation, whereas production is an insufficient but necessary condition. The resulting definition of causation is a suitable compromise between dependence and production. Every principle is introduced by means of a paradigmatic example of causation. We illustrate some of the benefits of our approach with two examples that have spelled trouble for other accounts. We make all of this formally precise using structural equations, which we extend with a timing over all events.

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Sander Beckers
University Tübingen

Citations of this work

The metaphysics of causation.Jonathan N. D. Schaffer - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
A Model-Invariant Theory of Causation.J. Dmitri Gallow - 2021 - Philosophical Review 130 (1):45-96.
Causation in terms of production.Holger Andreas & Mario Günther - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (6):1565-1591.
Foundations of a Probabilistic Theory of Causal Strength.Jan Sprenger - 2018 - Philosophical Review 127 (3):371-398.

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References found in this work

Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.
Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
Cause and Norm.Christopher Hitchcock & Joshua Knobe - 2009 - Journal of Philosophy 106 (11):587-612.
Two concepts of causation.Ned Hall - 2004 - In John Collins, Ned Hall & Laurie Paul (eds.), Causation and Counterfactuals. MIT Press. pp. 225-276.

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