Causation

Course description

The relation between causes and effects is typically taken to be asymmetric. Whenever C is a cause of E, then E is not a cause of C. But how do we explain this feature? What kind of asymmetry is this? Not all philosophical analyses of causation capture the concept of causal asymmetry equally well. In this course we will consider the metaphysical problem of causal asymmetry, and discuss how different accounts of the nature of causation can explain this asymmetry of causation. Feel free to contact me at ms2416@cam.ac.uk if you have any suggestions, questions, or comments about this course.

General reading

  • Schaffer’s SEP-entry ‘The Metaphysics of Causation’: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-metaphysics/
  • Paul, L.A. and Ned Hall. Causation: A User’s Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. (Only touches on the problem of assymmetry, but an excellent recent introduction.)
  • James Woodward. Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Anjum, Rani Lill and Stephen Mumford. Getting Causes From Powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Online resources

Outlines and handouts will be made available on:

http://msteenhagen.github.io/teaching/2016cau/

Where and when

Wednesday 3-4. Lecture Block Room 12


Lecture 1: Causation and the symmetry of correlation

This lecture will focus on two related features of the causal relation: it is asymmetric, and in a way that is closely tied to the directionality of time. Many philosophers think that these features require explanation by a philosophical analysis of causation. We will identify two constraints this puts on an adequate theory of causation. Handout

Suggested Reading
  • Price, Huw and Brad Weslake, ‘The Time-Asymmetry of Causation’, in Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock and Peter Menzies (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 414–43.
  • Papineau, David. ‘Causal Asymmetry’. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep., 1985), pp. 273-289.
  • Hausman, Daniel. Causal Asymmetries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Lecture 2: Counterfactuals

The central idea behind a counterfactual analysis of causation is that for two causally related events, typically, had the cause not occurred, the effect would not have occurred. How can the counterfactual analysis deal with the causal asymmetry, and does it succeed? Handout

Suggested Reading
  • David Lewis, ‘Causation’, Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973): 556-67. Reprinted in Lewis’s Philosophical Papers, Volume II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986)
  • Price, Huw and Brad Weslake, ‘The Time-Asymmetry of Causation’, in Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock and Peter Menzies (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 414–43.
  • Paul, L.A, 2009. ‘Counterfactual Theories’, in Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock and Peter Menzies (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 158–84.

Lecture 3: Manipulability and Intervention

This lecture will discuss theories which invoke manipulability, intervention, or agency to account for causation, especially its asymmetry. Such theories tend observe that a statement about causation is very closely connected to statements about techniques or ways or recipes for bringing things about. What does that tell us about the causal relation? Handout

Suggested Reading
  • Gasking, Douglas ‘Causation and Recipes’, Mind Vol. 64, No. 256 (Oct., 1955), pp. 479-487.
  • Menzies, Peter and Huw Price, ‘Causation as Secondary Property’, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Jun., 1993), pp. 187-203.
  • Woodward, James. Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Lecture 4: Causal Powers

Recently, philosophers have shown renewed interest in an ontology of powers as offering the resources to explain causation. In this lecture we will look at a recent version of this proposal, and evaluate whether its explanation of causal asymmetry improves on regularity theories. Handout

Suggested Reading
  • Lowe, E.J. ‘Substance Causation, Powers, and Human Agency’, in: Sophie Gibb, E.J. Lowe and R.D. Ingthorsson (eds.), Mental Causation and Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 153-172.
  • Cartwright, Nancy. Nature’s Capacities and Their Measurement. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Marmodoro, Anna. ‘Aristotelian Powers at Work: Reciprocity without Symmetry in Causation’. In: Jonathan Jacobs (ed.) Causal Powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press.