Metaphysics of Causation

Course Requirement Areas: 
Metaphysics and Epistemology
Course Description: 

The purpose of this course is to introduce students into some metaphysical issues in the philosophy of causation, with particular focus on the connection between causation on the one hand, and manipulation and agency on the other. The issues to be discussed include the following: whether or not causal concepts are dispensable in science; to which extent causal claims depend on the truth of certain statistical regularities or of some counterfactuals; what role, if any, our decisions and practices play in our concept of a cause; how we can explain the asymmetry and temporal directionality of causal relations; and in which sense, if any, causation is ‘objective’ or ‘fundamental’. Finally, we shall discuss some specific problems about causation, such as the possibility of downward causation, mental causation, overdetermination, and causation’s connection to dispositions, laws, and physical processes. The choice among these specific problems will be made during the course and will depend on the interests of participating students.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students are expected to acquire the ability to reconstruct and analyze philosophical arguments or positions. These involve the understanding of validity and soundness of the arguments, the ability to identify background principles and assumptions as well as the ability to draw out the consequences of certain philosophical commitments. They are also expected to acquire certain oral communication skills such as the ability to formulate arguments concisely and accessibly in words and to give short critical comments. They should also learn how to identify and execute an appropriate writing project. Finally, they should be familiarized with the main contemporary debates about causation. Learning outcomes shall be measured by one oral presentation of a classic issue, one oral presentation of material related to the student’s project (i.e., plan for a term-paper), and the term-paper.


Students’ performance shall be evaluated on the following grounds. First, students are required to attend classes regularly and to participate actively in seminar discussions. They should be able to make comments on the texts they have read and respond to the presentations of other student. 10% of their final grade shall be given on the basis of this in-class activity. Second, students are required to give two short presentations of some chosen topic(s) which must include the logical reconstruction of the main arguments of the text and, possibly, interpretative remarks or questions for discussion. They are also expected to prepare and distribute a maximum two page long hand-out that they distribute before their presentation. The choice of topic is optional, but overlap should be avoided. This will make up another 15% of their final grade. Thirdly, students are required to submit a 4 000 word long term-paper. The topic of the paper can be either a careful critical reconstruction of a particular and important argument for some position discussed in the course; or a comparison between competing arguments about alternative solutions to a problem; or a defense of some particular position/argument against some relevant criticism. The chosen topic should be approved by the instructor and presented during the course. References can, but need not, go beyond the material included into the compulsory readings. The term-paper’s contribution to the final assessment of students’ performance is 75 %.

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