Counterfactual Theories of Causation

Helen Beebee, Peter Menzies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


The basic idea of counterfactual theories of causation is that the meaning of causal claims can be explained in terms of counterfactual conditionals of the form “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”. Most counterfactual analyses have focused on claims of the form “event c caused event e”, describing ‘singular’ or ‘token’ or ‘actual’ causation. Such analyses have become popular since the development in the 1970s of possible world semantics for counterfactuals. The best-known counterfactual analysis of causation is David Lewis’s (1973b) theory. However, intense discussion over forty years has cast doubt on the adequacy of any simple analysis of singular causation in terms of counterfactuals. Recent years have seen a proliferation of different refinements of the basic idea; the ‘structural equations’ or ‘causal modelling’ framework is currently the most popular way of cashing out the relationship between causation and counterfactuals.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
EditorsE.N. Zalta
ISBN (Electronic)1095-5054
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Counterfactual Theories of Causation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this