2nd Semester 2023/24: Actual Causation

Sander Beckers

The introduction of causal models by Pearl and others has proven to be a revolution in thinking rigorously and scientifically about causation. In this project we focus on the use of causal models to offer definitions of actual causation, that is to say causation of specific events. After introducing the logic of causal models and some of the most prominent attempts at defining causation, we will dive into my own recent work on the topic, both published and in progress. The aim is not just to learn about the state of the art in the field, but to also contribute to it. Depending on your interests, we can shift focus to different sub-topics.


We meet once a week for a long session of several hours. For the first two weeks students are expected to prepare by reading several articles that serve as background material. After I present these articles in the style of a lecture, the session evolves into a seminar during which we discuss them. In the last two weeks we start from a focus on my current (unpublished) attempts to improve upon existing work and the challenges that this involves, but there is room for deviating in case students propose alternative topics. For these weeks, students will be given tasks suited to their interest: they may consist of technical challenges in translating ideas into the language of causal models, or in understanding the precise relation between statements of different authors, or in applying an analysis of actual causation to a particular debate in philosophy. The results of these tasks will be briefly presented by the students.


Experience with causal models and counterfactuals is useful but not required. An interest in a formal approach to philosophy of science is recommended. Those with an interest in using causal models in the field of explainable AI can be accommodated as well. 


Students will be assessed throughout, including their preparation in reading the articles, their contributions to the discussion, as well as the tasks that they submit during the last two weeks and the presentations that follow.


Beckers, S. (2022). Causal Explanations and XAI, CLeaR 2022

Beckers, S. (2021) Causal Sufficiency and Actual Causation, Journal of Philosophical Logic.

Beckers, S. and Halpern, J.Y. (2019). Abstracting Causal Models, AAAI 2019

Halpern, J.Y. (2016). Actual causality. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Pearl, J. (2009). Causality: models, reasoning, and inference, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weslake, B. (2015). A partial theory of actual causation. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science forthcoming.

Woodward,J.(2003).Making Things Happen: a Theory of Causal Explanation.OxfordUniversityPress.