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Episode 8: Causation / October 16, 2020

With Dr Neil McDonnell

Hosted by Arianna Clark Ruaridh Gilmartin

Edited by Constantinos Stylianou

Posted in Metaphysics Main feed

Most of us probably think we know how causation works. If we flick the switch of the kettle, we will cause the kettle to boil. If we set up a line of dominoes, and knock over the first domino, we will have caused that domino to fall, which will cause the next domino to fall, and the next, and the next, and so on. However, Dr Neil McDonnell – The Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Research Fellow of the University of Glasgow – is going to discuss just some of the ways in which talking about causation isn’t so simple, with Ruaridh Gilmartin and Arianna Clark.

In this episode we map the space of what we don’t know about causation. And as we probe, Neil discusses a wide variety of ways to fill the gaps in our understanding; from infinite causes, to unsatisfying answers, and not forgetting the “heroically implausible suggestions”. We’ll discuss David Lewis’ famous Counterfactual Theory of Causation, the problem of “over-determination”,  and how – from the law courts to the safety engineers - the world we know is riddled with causation.


1.45 – Explaining why defining causation is contentious

5:30 – Why should we care about causation?

7:56 – Difficulties in choosing which cause caused what

9:39 – Problem of over-determination

13:05 – “If it hadn’t happened then...” or “The counterfactual theory of causation”

16:20 – Causal Responsibility and Felony Murder

19:40 – Suggestions for further reading/viewing


Further Reading:

Stanford Encyclopedia

N. Hall, L.A. Paul, - “Causation: A User’s Guide”, (OUP Oxford, 2013)

“Counterfactuals and Causation: History, Problems and Prospects”, in Causation and Counterfactuals (MIT Press pg 1-57, 2004)

D. Lewis, - “Causation,” Journal of Philosophy, 70: 556–567

Also, the film “Run Lola Run”