Contents of 269 Syllabus


1. Instructor Information

2. Schedule & Readings

3. Term Paper

4. Course Discussion Group


1  Instructor Information

Branden Fitelson
Philosophy Department
Office: Building 90, Room 92H
Office Phone: 725-0110
Office Hours: 3-4 W, 3-5 WR, and by appointment
Email: (or, which forwards to my account)

The best way to reach me is via email (I check it all the time).

2  Schedule & Readings

NOTE: Those who are taking the seminar for credit are expected to study the required readings, which are sometimes short but almost always difficult. The optional readings are listed for those students who want to pursue the topic further. I do not expect students to look at the optional readings (for the purposes of class discussions). The following schedule is tentative. It is subject to change depending on the pace of discussion and the interests of the seminar participants. The schedule will be updated regularly as we go along (I'll try to keep it 2 weeks ahead of where we are now, at all times). Refresh this page to make sure you have the latest version.

NOTE: All required (and almost all recommended) readings are either posted on this website in PDF format, or posted on another website in either HTML or PDF format. You will not need to purchase any materials for the course [some of the papers have been scanned-in, and may not be easily readable on screen --- but, they should all be quite readable once printed out]. You can get complete references for all papers and books used in the course (and many others!) from the following pair of partial bibliographies on causation:

NOTE: to view/print PDF files, you'll need to .

Week #1: Brief historical introduction to causation and the problems of causation. Why is causation important and why it is problematic? A few words about the historical background. We begin with Hume's theory, not only because it is the most influential view of deterministic causation, but also because its difficulties all have echoes in difficulties faced by probabilistic theories of causation. In particular, we will point out problems concerning the asymmetry of the causal relation, the distinction between laws and accidental generalizations, and the possibility that effects of a common cause can satisfy all of Hume's conditions on causation. We shall also say something about the relations among causation, induction, laws, and counterfactuals.

Week #2: Counterfactual theories of (token) causation. This week focuses David Lewis' influential counterfactual theory (and various revisions of it). Of particular interest to us will be the ways that counterfactual theories theory copes (or fails to cope) with the difficulties that Hume's theory faced (as outlined by Hausman).

Week #3: Manipulability Theories of Causation. This week we will read about (philosophical) theories which invoke "manipulability" or "agency" to resolve some of the mysteries of causation (especially, asymmetry).

Weeks 4 - 6: Traditional probabilistic theories of causation. We will begin by discussing (a) some preliminary technical background to probability and its objective interpretation, and (b) the distinction between type and token probabilistic causation. Then, we will discuss (c) type-level PC followed by (d) token-level PC. The token-level PC stuff will overlap with the discussion of counterfactual theories of causation.

Weeks #7 - 10: Bayesian Networks and Causal Modeling with Structural Equations

3  Term Paper

The main work for the seminar will consist of an essay of roughly 5,000 words, which will be due March 22. Students should select topics no later than February 20 and should discuss their topics with me. I will read and write comments on all seminar papers that are submitted on time. Late papers may receive less feedback.

4  Course Discussion Group

In addition to the seminar papers, students are required to post a question on the seminar's usenet discussion group: su.class.phil269 every week by noon on Monday. Student(s) will also be responsible for introducing and opening the discussion once during the quarter. Each Thursday, the discussion leader(s) will be responsible for summarizing and organizing the questions posted on the web discussion page that week, highlighting the questions the discussion leader thinks the seminar should focus on, and, where appropriate, sketching some answers to the posted questions. The presentations of the discussion leaders should take about 15 minutes. One-eighth of the quarter grade will depend on the web postings and on performance as discussion leaders, and another eighth of the quarter grade will depend on the quality of contributions to seminar discussions.