Anjum, Rani Lill, and Stephen Mumford. A Powerful Theory of Causation

2010, In Anna Marmodoro (ed.) The Metaphysics of Powers, Routledge (2010): 143-59.

Abstract: Hume thought that if you believed in powers, you believed in necessary connections in nature. He was then able to argue that there were none such because anything could follow anything else. But Hume wrong-footed his opponents. A power does not necessitate its manifestations: rather, it disposes towards them in a way that is less than necessary but more than purely contingent. In this paper a dispositional theory of causation is offered. Causes dispose towards their effects and often produce them. But a set of causes, even though they may succeed in producing an effect, cannot necessitate it since the effect could have been counteracted by some additional power. This would require a separation of our concepts of causal production and causal necessitation. The most conspicuous cases of causation are those where powers accumulate and pass a requisite threshold for an effect to occur. We develop a model for representing powers as constituent vectors within an n-dimensional quality space, where composition of causes appears as vector addition. Even our resultant vector, however, has to be understood as having dispositional force only. This model throws new light on causal modality and cases of prevention, causation by absence and probabilistic causation.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on metaphysics, philosophy of science, or any course in which philosophical accounts of causation are relevant. This paper has the benefit of being both clear and non-technical, and being quite cutting-edge. Suitable for undergraduates of all levels.