Causation

Course description

The relation between causes and effects is typically taken to have a direction (it’s asymmetric). Whenever C is a cause of E, then E is not a cause of C. Moreover, this directionality seems aligned with both the temporal arrow and with patterns of practical deliberation. How do we explain this feature? Not all philosophical analyses of causation capture the concept of causal direction in the same way, if they capture it at all. In this course we will consider several theories of causation and highlight what they have to say about the direction of the causal arrow.

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 asymmetry, 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/2018cau/

Where and when

Wednesday 3-4. Lecture Block Room 7


Lecture 1: Causation and the symmetry of correlation

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

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. (Good overview of the issues)
  • Papineau, David. ‘Causal Asymmetry’. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Sep., 1985), pp. 273-289. (Tries to account for asymmetry in terms of asymmetry of ‘screening off’)
  • Russell, Bertrand, ‘On the Notion of a Cause’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 13 (1913): 1-26. (For an eliminativist account)
  • Cartwright, Nancy, ‘Causal Laws and Effective Strategies’, Noûs, 13 (1979): 419-37. (Criticism of eliminativism)
  • Tooley, Michael, Causation: A Realist Approach, Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1987. (For a primitivist account)

(Download handout here)


Lecture 2: Counterfactuals

The central idea behind a counterfactual analysis of causation is that for two causally related events, had the cause not occurred, the effect would not have occurred, or there is at least a chain of causal dependence connecting the two. How can the counterfactual analysis deal with the direction and asymmetry of causation, and does it succeed?

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)
  • David Lewis, ‘Counterfactual Dependence and Time’s Arrow,’ Nous 13(4), 1979. 455-476.
  • 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.

(Download handout here)


Lecture 3: Manipulability and Intervention

This lecture will discuss theories which invoke manipulability, intervention, or agency to account for causation. 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. Causation becomes a mind-centered phenomenon. What does that tell us about the properties of the causal relation?

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.

(Download handout here)