The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the philosophy of causation. The issues to be discussed will relate to classic contributions of the 20th century and include the following: whether or not causal concepts are dispensable in science; to which extent causal claims depend on the truth of certain statistical regularities or of some counterfactuals; whether causation can be perceived or not; what role, if any, our moral ideas, decisions and practices play in our concept of a cause; and in which sense, if any, causation is ‘objective’ or ‘selective’. The issues dealt with do not only concern metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of science, but also philosophy of law and ethics
Students are expected to acquire the ability to reconstruct and analyze philosophical arguments or positions. These involve the understanding of validity and soundness of the arguments, the ability to identify background principles and assumptions as well as the ability to draw out the consequences of certain philosophical commitments. They are also expected to acquire certain oral communication skills such as the ability to formulate arguments concisely and accessibly in words and to give short critical comments. They should also learn how to identify and execute an appropriate writing project. Finally, they should be familiarized with the main contemporary debates about causation. Learning outcomes shall be measured by one oral presentation of a classic paper, one written or oral presentation of material related to the student’s project (i.e., plan for a term-paper), depending on student-numbers, and the term-paper.
Students’ performance shall be evaluated on the following grounds. First, students are required to attend classes regularly and to participate actively in seminar discussions. They should be able to make comments on the texts they have read and respond to the presentations of other students. Second, students are required to give one short 15-min presentation of some chosen topic which must include the logical reconstruction of the main arguments of the text and interpretative remarks or questions for discussion. They are also expected to prepare and distribute a maximum 1-page long handout that they distribute for their presentation. The overall oral participation in the class amounts to 25% of their final grade. Thirdly, students are required to submit a 2000-word long term-paper. The topic of the paper can be either a careful critical reconstruction of a particular and important argument for some position discussed in the course, a comparison between competing arguments about alternative solutions to a problem, or a defense of some particular position/argument against some relevant criticism. The chosen topic should be specified by the student, related to one of the mandatory readings, approved by the instructor and will be presented during the course. References should go beyond the material included into the compulsory readings. More specific handouts regarding the term paper requirements will be shared during the course. The term-paper’s contribution to the final assessment of students’ performance is 75 %.