Actual causation: a stone soup essay

Clark Glymour*, David Danks, Bruce Glymour, Frederick Eberhardt, Joseph Ramsey, Richard Scheines, Peter Spirtes, Choh Man Teng, Jiji Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


We argue that current discussions of criteria for actual causation are ill-posed in several respects. (1) The methodology of current discussions is by induction from intuitions about an infinitesimal fraction of the possible examples and counterexamples; (2) cases with larger numbers of causes generate novel puzzles; (3) “neuron” and causal Bayes net diagrams are, as deployed in discussions of actual causation, almost always ambiguous; (4) actual causation is (intuitively) relative to an initial system state since state changes are relevant, but most current accounts ignore state changes through time; (5) more generally, there is no reason to think that philosophical judgements about these sorts of cases are normative; but (6) there is a dearth of relevant psychological research that bears on whether various philosophical accounts are descriptive. Our skepticism is not directed towards the possibility of a correct account of actual causation; rather, we argue that standard methods will not lead to such an account. A different approach is required.

Once upon a time a hungry wanderer came into a village. He filled an iron cauldron with water, built a fire under it, and dropped a stone into the water. “I do like a tasty stone soup” he announced. Soon a villager added a cabbage to the pot, another added some salt and others added potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was a meal for all.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169–192
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Early online date20 Mar 2009
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010

User-Defined Keywords

  • Actual causation
  • Bayesian networks
  • Combinatorics
  • Intervention
  • Intuitions


Dive into the research topics of 'Actual causation: a stone soup essay'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this