Cause and Chance: Causation in an Indeterministic World

Cause and Chance: Causation in an Indeterministic World

Cause and Chance: Causation in an Indeterministic World

Cause and Chance: Causation in an Indeterministic World


Philosophers have long been fascinated by the connection between cause and effect: are 'causes' things we can experience, or are they concepts provided by our minds? The study of causation goes back to Aristotle, but resurged with David Hume and Immanuel Kant, and is now one of the most important topics in metaphysics. Most of the recent work done in this area has attempted to place causation in a deterministic, scientific, worldview. But what about the unpredictable and chancey world we actually live in: can one theory of causation cover all instances of cause and effect? Cause and Chance: Causation in an Indeterministic World is a collection of specially written papers by world-class metaphysicians. Its focus is the problem facing the 'reductionist' approach to causation: the attempt to cover all types of causation, deterministic and indeterministic, with one basic theory.Contributors: Stephen Barker, Helen Beebee, Phil Dowe, Dorothy Edgington, Doug Ehring, Chris Hitchcock, Igal Kwart, Paul Noordhof, Murali Ramachandran and Michael Tooley.


Phil Dowe and Paul Noordhof

The world most probably is indeterministic, meaning that there are particular events which lack a sufficient cause. Once we grant that there are such events, and that at least some of them are caused, we then require an account of causation that gives the conditions in which they are to count as caused. This is the problem of indeterministic causality. Providing for indeterministic causality has been a major motivation for the development of probabilistic accounts of causation.

A probabilistic account - essentially the idea that a cause raises the probability of its effect - is now commonplace in science and philosophy. It is taught as received knowledge in many fields. For example, in his medical textbook J. Mark Elwood offers this definition of cause: 'a factor is a cause if its operation increases the frequency of the event', and his caption describes this definition as 'The general definition of cause' (Elwood 1992:6). Philosophers, on the other hand, have not been so sure. the papers in this volume contribute towards the proper articulation of the idea as well as, in some cases, subjecting it to sustained criticism. Below we briefly sketch some of the themes raised.

1 the characterization of chance-raising

Amongst philosophers who do agree that causes raise the chance of their effects, there has been disagreement over how this fundamental idea should be appropriately characterized. Some do so in terms of conditional probabilities (for example, see Igal Kvart, this volume); others do so in terms of subjunctive conditionals with chances of events figuring in the consequent of these conditionals (for example, see Paul Noordhof and Murali Ramachandran, this volume).

In philosophy, defining causes in terms of chance-raising was first made popular by Patrick Suppes' influential book A Probabilistic Theory of Causality, although both Reichenbach and Good had previously offered versions (Reichenbach 1956; Good 1961, 1962). Suppes defines prima facie causes, spurious causes, and genuine causes: 7

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.