From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of causation, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of causation. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on the philosophy of causation in no particular order.
Causation: A Very Short Introduction – Mumford & Anjum
Publisher description: Causation is the most fundamental connection in the universe. Without it, there would be no science or technology. There would be no moral responsibility either, as none of our thoughts would be connected with our actions and none of our actions with any consequences. Nor would we have a system of law because blame resides only in someone having caused injury or damage.
Any intervention we make in the world around us is premised on there being causal connections that are, to a degree, predictable. It is causation that is at the basis of prediction and also explanation. This Very Short Introduction introduces the key theories of causation and also the surrounding debates and controversies. Do causes produce their effects by guaranteeing them? Do causes have to precede their effects? Can causation be reduced to the forces of physics? And are we right to think of causation as one single thing at all?
Causation: A User’s Guide – Paul & Hall
Publisher description: Causation is at once familiar and mysterious. Many believe that the causal relation is not directly observable, but that we nevertheless can somehow detect its presence in the world. Common sense seems to have a firm grip on causation, and much work in the natural and social sciences relies on the idea. Yet neither common sense nor extensive philosophical debate has led us to anything like agreement on the correct analysis of the concept of causation, or an account of the metaphysical nature of the causal relation. Contemporary debates are driven by opposing motivations, conflicting intuitions, and unarticulated methodological assumptions.
Causation: A User’s Guide cuts a clear path through this confusing but vital landscape. L. A. Paul and Ned Hall guide the reader through the most important philosophical treatments of causation, negotiating the terrain by taking a set of examples as landmarks. Special attention is given to counterfactual and related analyses of causation. Using a methodological principle based on the close examination of potential counterexamples, they clarify the central themes of the debate about causation, and cover questions about causation involving omissions or absences, preemption and other species of redundant causation, and the possibility that causation is not transitive. Along the way, Paul and Hall examine several contemporary proposals for analyzing the nature of causation and assess their merits and overall methodological cogency. …
Causation (Oxford Readings In Philosophy) – Ernest Sosa
Publisher description: This volume presents a selection of the most influential recent discussions of the crucial metaphysical question: What is it for one event to cause another? The subject of causation bears on many topics, such as time, explanation, mental states, the laws of nature, and the philosophy of science. Contributors include J.L Mackie, Michael Scriven, Jaegwon Kim, G.E.M. Anscombe, G.H. von Wright, C.J. Ducasse, Wesley C. Salmon, David Lewis, Paul Horwich, Jonathan Bennett, Ernest Sosa, and Michael Tooley.
The Oxford Handbook of Causation – Beebee, Hitchcock, & Menzies
Publisher description: Causation is a central topic in many areas of philosophy. In metaphysics, philosophers want to know what causation is, and how it is related to laws of nature, probability, action, and freedom of the will. In epistemology, philosophers investigate how causal claims can be inferred from statistical data, and how causation is related to perception, knowledge and explanation. In the philosophy of mind, philosophers want to know whether and how the mind can be said to have causal efficacy, and in ethics, whether there is a moral distinction between acts and omissions and whether the moral value of an act can be judged according to its consequences. And causation is a contested concept in other fields of enquiry, such as biology, physics, and the law.
This book provides an in-depth and comprehensive overview of these and other topics, as well as the history of the causation debate from the ancient Greeks to the logical empiricists. The chapters provide surveys of contemporary debates, while often also advancing novel and controversial claims; and each includes a comprehensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading. The book is thus the most comprehensive source of information about causation currently available, and will be invaluable for upper-level undergraduates through to professional philosophers.
Metaphysics – Aristotle
Publisher description: This new translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics in its entirety is a model of accuracy and consistency, presented with a wealth of annotation and commentary.
Sequentially numbered endnotes provide the information most needed at each juncture, while a detailed Index of Terms guides the reader to places where focused discussion of key notions occurs.
An illuminating general Introduction describes the book that lies ahead, explaining what it is about, what it is trying to do, how it goes about doing it, and what sort of audience it presupposes.
An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding – David Hume
Publisher description: A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume’s response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.
In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work’s important relationship to Book I of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics – Immanuel Kant
Publisher description: This edition of Prolegomena includes Kant’s letter of February, 1772 to Marcus Herz, a momentous document in which Kant relates the progress of his thinking and announces that he is now ready to present a critique of pure reason.
The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation – J. L. Mackie
Publisher description: Studies causation both as a concept and as it is ‘in the objects’ Offers new accounts of the logic of singular causal statements, the form of causal regularities, the detection of causal relationships, the asymmetry of cause and effect, and necessary connection, and it relates causation to functional and statistical laws and to teleology.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Metaphysics of Causation
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Causation
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Metaphysics
- The Best Books on the Philosophy of Science
- The Best Books on or by David Hume
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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