Making Causal Counterfactuals More Singular, and More Appropriate for Use in Law

In Benedikt Kahmen Markus Stepanians (ed.), Causation and Responsibility: Critical Essays. De Gruyter. pp. 157-189 (2013)
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Unlike any other monograph on legal liability, Michael S. Moore’s book CAUSATION AND RESPONSIBILITY contains a well-informed and in-depth discussion of the metaphysics of causation. Moore does not share the widespread view that legal scholars should not enter into metaphysical debates about causation. He shows respect for the subtleties of philosophical debates on causal relata, identity conditions for events, the ontological distinctions between events, states of affairs, facts and tropes, and the counterfactual analysis of event causation, and he considers all these issues relevant to law. In this contribution, I defend an amended version of the COUNTERFACTUAL theory of event causation both against Moore’s criticism and against some traits of Lewis’s version of the theory. On a number of counts, I simply defend Lewis against Moore’s misdirected criticism. Moore’s unreasonable demand that all the commonplaces about causation have to FOLLOW from the counterfactual analysis rests on his mistaken claim that the counterfactual theory IDENTIFIES causation with counterfactual dependence. In other respects, I part company with Lewis in order to highlight some underrated strengths of the counterfactual approach. The common denominator of my revisions is that they make the counterfactual theory unambiguously singularist. The suggested revisions comprise: performing the counterfactual analysis with Davidsonian rather than with Lewisian events, taking seriously the ex post-character of singular causal statements, making explicit the indexical ceteris paribus clause that fixes the actual circumstances of the causing event, abandoning the alleged transitivity of causation, and, last but not least, doing everything in the correct order. The correct order is to start with bedrock intuitions about the nature of causality rather than with a general possible world semantics, and then to turn these intuitions into constraints for the class of counterfactuals that a counterfactual analysis of causation has to consider.

Author's Profile

Geert Keil
Humboldt-University, Berlin


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