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This guide accompanies the following article(s): ‘Mechanistic Theories of Causality Part I.’Philosophy Compass 6/6 (2011): 421–432, DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00400.x; ‘Mechanistic Theories of Causality Part II.’Philosophy Compass 6/6 (2011): 433–444, DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00401.x

Author’s Introduction

Mechanisms are a hot topic in the philosophy of science, with a large number of papers written on mechanisms and mechanistic explanation across the sciences in the last decade. The question naturally arises as to whether mechanisms can shed light on the notion of cause, and, indeed, several authors have suggested that C causes E just in case C and E are connected in the right way by a physical mechanism. The papers accompanied by this guide examine the prospects of mechanistic theories of causality.

In the following section, I provide some related readings that would work well with the papers for more detailed discussion of mechanistic theories of causality. The sample syllabus below situates discussion of mechanistic theories of causality in the context of a course on the epistemology and metaphysics of causality.

Author Recommends

Salmon, Wesley. A New Look at Causality, in his Causality and Explanation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 13–24.

A very gentle introduction to process theories of causality.

Dowe, Phil. Physical Causation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

A detailed defence of Dowe’s conserved-quantity process theories of causality.

Machamer, P., L. Darden, and C. Craver. ‘Thinking about Mechanisms.’Philosophy of Science 67 (2000): 1–25.

Perhaps the most influential development of the mechanistic turn in the philosophy of science.

Glennan, Stuart. Mechanisms. The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Eds. H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock and P. Menzies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 315–25.

A recent exposition of Glennan’s complex-systems theory of causality.

Illari, P. M., F. Russo, and J. Williamson. Causality in the Sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

A collection of papers on causality. The relationship between mechanisms and causality is a major theme running through the book. For example, chapter 24 extends Dowe’s account, while chapter 38 provides a general characterisation of mechanisms.

Online Materials

Causality in the Sciences conference series: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/philosophy/jw/cits.htm

The main forum for discussion of theories of causality in relation to scientific method.

Sample Syllabus

Topic I: Difference-making theories of causality

Reading

Paul, L. A. ‘Counterfactual Theories.’The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Eds. H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock and P. Menzies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 158–84.

Williamson, Jon. ‘Probabilistic Theories.’The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Eds. H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock and P. Menzies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 185–212.

Woodward, James. ‘Agency and Interventionist Theories.’The Oxford Handbook of Causation. Eds. H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock and P. Menzies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 234–62.

Topic II: Mechanistic theories of causality

Reading

Salmon, Wesley. ‘A New Look at Causality,’ in his Causality and Explanation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 13–24.

Machamer, P., L. Darden, and C. Craver. ‘Thinking about Mechanisms.’Philosophy of Science 67 (2000): 1–25.

Williamson, Jon. ‘Mechanistic Theories of Causation Parts I and II.’Philosophy Compass (2011).

Topic III: Pluralist theories of causality

Reading

Hall, Ned. ‘Two Concepts of Causation.’Causation and Counterfactuals. Eds. J. Collins, N. Hall and L. Paul. MIT Press, 2004. 225–76.

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. ‘Causal Pluralism.’The Oxford Handbook of Causation Beebee. Eds. H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock and P. Menzies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 326–37.

Reiss, Julian. ‘Third Time’s a Charm: Causation, Science and Wittgensteinian Pluralism.’Causality in the Sciences. Eds. P. M. Illari, F. Russo and J. Williamson. Oxford University Press, 2011. 907–27.

Philosophica 77.1 – special issue on causal pluralism.

Topic IV: The epistemology of causality

Reading

Russo, F. and J. Williamson. ‘Interpreting Causality in the Health Sciences.’International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 21.2 (2007): 157–70.

Gillies, D. A. ‘The Russo-Williamson Thesis and the Question of whether Smoking Causes Heart Disease.’Causality in the Sciences. Eds. P. M. Illari, F. Russo and J. Williamson. Oxford University Press, 2011. 110–25.

Illari, P. M. ‘Disambiguating the Russo-Williamson Thesis.’International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, forthcoming.

Weber, E. ‘How Probabilistic Causation can Account for the Use of Mechanistic Evidence.’International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 23 (2009): 277–95.

Darby, G. and J. Williamson. ‘Imaging Technology and the Philosophy of Causality.’Philosophy & Technology, forthcoming; doi: 10.1007/s13347-010-0010-7.

Russo, F. and J. Williamson. ‘Generic versus Single-case Causality: The Case of Autopsy.’European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1.1 (2011): 47–69; doi: 10.1007/s13194-010-0012-4.