TOPICS IN METAPHYSICS

CAUSATION AND MODALITY

Fall 2016

Meeting Time and Location: 102, Philosophy; Mondays 4-6

Instructor: Simona Aimar (e-mail: s.aimar@ucl.ac.uk)

Office Hours: Mondays 3-4 (or by appointment)

This course focuses on causation and modality. But what are causation and modality? Causation is easy to introduce: it's about what it means to say that something causes something else. Modality might sound more obscure at first: yet it's about familiar notions too, the notions of possibility and necessity. The goal of our seminar is to figure out how these notions connect to one another.

For centuries, philosophers have thought that there is a close relation between modality and causation. Here is why. In order to find out whether something causes something else, we often tend to consider what could possibly or necessarily happen if a given event were to happen, or not to happen. For instance, in order to predict whether an earthquake causes a building to fall down, we try to figure out what would or could happen if an earthquake were to occur. To many, this suggests that there is a close relation between notions such as possibility, necessity and causation. But what relation exactly?

The answer to this question remains extremely controversial today. We will look at some of the main answers, and consider to which extent they are worth pursuing. Some authors attempt at reducing causation to modality. Roughly, the idea is that causation is some sort of necessary connection between the cause of the effect. Other authors claim that we should in fact reverse the order of explanation: modality is to be reduced, in a sense we will explain, to causation. Yet others suggest that we should set aside any reductive attempt between these two sets of notions.

We'll discuss each of these positions, and see whether we can make a clearer picture of the inter-play between causation and modality emerge. Along the way, we will also try and formulate our own original answer to the question of how to connect modality and causation.

 

Recommended Texts

- Collins, J. D., Hall E. J. and Paul L. A. eds. (2004). Causation and Counterfactuals. MIT Press. - Hall, N. and L. A. Paul. (2013). Causation: A User's Guide, OUP, Oxford.

All readings will be made available on pdf. via Moodle.

Course Requirements for Graduate Students (E, or graded, credit)

- Attendance of all seminar meetings.

- One final essay (3500(U), 4500 words (P)) due on the first day of next term.

- Active participation in class.

 

Week-by-Week Plan

Part I – Motivation: Why Connect Modality and Causation?

 

Week 1. Introduction

-  Tooley, M. (1996). Causation. In Donald M. Borchert, Ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Supplement. New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan, pp. 72-75.

-  Sider, Theodore (2003). 'Reductive Theories of Modality', in Michael J. Loux and Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics, 180–208. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Week 2. Historical Background

 -  ‘Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion’, section I iii 14 of the Treatise [on Courseworks].

-  Section VII of the (first) Enquiry (ie the Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding) [on Courseworks].

- Plato and Aristotle: background conditions in modal terms

- selections from Plato's Phaedo and Aristotle's Metaphysics Theta 5 [on Courseworks].

Optional Reading

- Broadie, S. (2009). 'The Ancient Greeks', in The Oxford Handbook of Causation by Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock, and Peter Menzies (eds.). [This piece is just great.]

 

Part II – Reducing Causation to Modality

 

Week 3. The standard counterfactual account and its counterexamples

Guest Speaker: Prof. John Collins (Columbia University)

- David Hume: causation and practical counterfactual reasoning

-  Collins, J. D., Hall E. J. and Paul L. A. eds. (2004). Causation and Counterfactuals. MIT Press, introduction [on reserve at Butler; and on Courseworks].

-  Hall, N, ‘Two Concepts of Causation’ [in Collins’ Causation and Counterfactuals, and on Courseworks].

-  Paul, L. and Hall, N. (2013). Causation, OUP, ch.s 1-2. [This partially overlaps with Hall’s ‘Two Concepts of Causation’; it is supposed to be a bit more introductory and very accessible; good background reading.]

Optional Reading

-  Schaffer, J. (2003). ‘Trumping Preemption’, in The Journal of Philosophy, pp. 165-181, reprinted in Collins et al. (ed.s) Causation and Counterfactuals.

 

Week 4. Sophisticated counterfactual accounts and potential objections

-  Lewis, D. (1973). ‘Causation’, in The Journal of Philosophy, pp. 556-567.

-  Lewis, D. (2000). ‘Causation as influence’, in The Journal of Philosophy, pp. 182-197. Week 5. Sufficiency accounts of causation

  

-  Kment, B. (2014). Modality and Explanatory Reasoning, OUP, selections. Optional Readings

-  Kment, B. (2014). Modality and Explanatory Reasoning, OUP, Oxford, further selections.

-  Kment, Boris (2006). 'Counterfactuals and the Analysis of Necessity', in Philosophical Perspectives pp. 237–302.
 

Week 10. Modality in terms of dispositions

  

Guest Speaker: Dr Alexander Kaiserman (Oxford University)

-  Mackie, J. L. (1980). The Cement of the Universe, OUP – selections.

-  Kaiserman, A. 'Normative Causation'.

-  Strevens, M. (2007). 'Mackie Remixed', in J. Keim Campbell, M. O’Rourke, and H. S. Silverstein (eds.), Causation and Explanation, Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, vol. 4, MIT Press, Cambridge. [http://www.strevens.org/research/expln/MacRules.pdf].

 

Part III. Reducing Modality to Causation

 

Week 7. Inverting the order of explanation?

Guest Speaker: Pr. Dorothy Edgington (Oxford & Birbeck University)

-  Edgington, D. (2011). 'Causation First: Why Causation is Prior to Counterfactuals', in Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology, Oxford: OUP, ch. 12 [on Courseworks].

-  Kment, B. (2014). Modality and Explanatory Reasoning, OUP, Oxford, chapters 1-2 (esp. pp.3-8, pp. 14-15, and ch.10 section 3

-  Vetter, B. (2011). 'Recent Work: Modality Without Possible Worlds', in Analysis, pp. 742- 754.

 

Week 7. March 23.Causes as truth-makers of modal claims

-  Kment, B. (2014). Modality and Explanatory Reasoning, OUP, selections.

Optional Readings

-  Kment, B. (2014). Modality and Explanatory Reasoning, OUP, Oxford, further selections.

-  Kment, Boris (2006). 'Counterfactuals and the Analysis of Necessity', in Philosophical Perspectives pp. 237–302.

 

Week 10. Modality in terms of dispositions

-  Vetter, B. (2015). Dispositions and Possibility, OUP, Oxford – selections.

Optional Readings

-  Aimar, S. (ms). ‘Non-Standard Modals: Disposition Ascriptions’. -

-  Wang, J. (2014). 'The Modal Limits of Dispositionalism', in Noûs.

-  Bauer, W. A. (2011). ‘An Argument for the Extrinsic Grounding of Mass’, Erkenntnis, pp. 81-99.

-  Eddon, M. (2013). ‘Quantitative Properties’, in Philosophy Compass.

 

Part IV. Connections without Reductions

 

 Week 9. Some anti-reductionist trends, and a response

- Maudlin, T. (2007). ‘A Modest Proposal Concerning Laws, Counterfactuals, and Explanations’, in The Metaphysics Within Physics, Oxford: OUP, pp. 5–49. [This paper suggests we'd not reduce causation to modality; nor vice-versa; instead, it might preferable to draw connections between counterfactuals and causation via the notion of primitive laws].

Optional Readings

-  Maudlin, T. (2007). ‘Why be Humeans?’, in The Metaphysics Within Physics, Oxford: OUP.

-  Schaffer, J. (2008). ‘Causation and laws of nature: Reductionism’, in Contemporary debates in metaphysic, pp. 82-107. [An attempt at reducing causation while meeting Maudlin’s challenges, among other things]

-  Carroll, J. W. (2008). 'Nailed to Hume’s Cross?', in Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics, pp. 67-81.

-  De Rosset, L. (ms). ‘Modal Primitivism’.

-  Wang, J. (ms, in preparation for the Encyclopedia of Philosophy). ‘Modal Primitivism’.

  

Week 10. Review, Catch-up, Mini-conference

 

DECEMBER 2nd: CONFERENCE, Metaphysics Through Time. (More details soon; everyone is welcome).