nl en

Causation in the Natural and Social Sciences


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation History and Philosophy of the Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Natural Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Psychology


The sciences are full of causal claims. Smoking causes cancer, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand caused the First World War, and a stray football against your window caused its glass to shatter. But what is causation? Do causes and effects always follow regular patterns or laws? Do they relate to counterfactual dependence? Or is causation a transfer of energy? In this course, we will explore such central questions. In doing so, we will touch upon causation as it relates to philosophy of science, but also to epistemology and metaphysics.

After a short survey of historical discussions of causation (particularly in Hume, Kant, and the logical empiricists), we will spend the majority of the course on contemporary (analytical) philosophical theories of causation - works that have been published in the last two decades or so. You will develop your own critical stance on these theories, and by doing so, take an active part in an area of philosophy that is both conceptually challenging and practically relevant. After all, if we don’t know what causation is, how can we tell when causal claims can be inferred from scientific (statistical) data or careful observation? We will finish the course by discussing how causation enters specific scientific disciplines, such as physics, biology, and political science.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to contemporary theories in philosophy of causation, and give them the tools to enter the debate surrounding causation in philosophy of science themselves.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the central theories in philosophy of causation, including but not limited to regularity theories, counterfactual theories, probabilistic theories and interventionist theories;

  • current central questions on causation in some specific natural and social scientific disciplines;

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • paraphrase and criticize arguments on recent issues in contemporary philosophy of causation as expressed in primary literature;

  • formulate an original argument on the area above in an academic abstract;

  • design and write an argumentative paper that develops and supports this argument.


The timetable is available on the following websites:

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Seminar attendance is required for admission to the exam.

Course load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (13 weeks x 3 hrs): 39 hours

  • Weekly literature and assignments (including abstract assignment) (13 weeks x 10 hours): 130 hours

  • Writing midterm and final papers (including research / reading additional literature): 111 hours

Assessment method


  • Mid-term paper (30%)

  • Abstract assignment (10%)

  • Final paper (60%)

Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to the exam.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consists of of paper (90%). The grades for the abstract assignment remains in place.
Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • class announcements;

  • dissemination of additional literature;

  • submitting essays and obtaining feedback.

Reading list

  • Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock and Peter Menzies (2012), The Oxford Handbook of Causation, Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199642588.

  • Contemporary articles; links will be posted on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. R.W. Runhardt


Not applicable.