Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Papineau

Committee Members

Stephen Neale

Graham Priest

Jonathan Schaffer

Michael Strevens

Subject Categories

Metaphysics | Philosophy of Science


causation, structural equation models, counterfactuals


This dissertation begins by addressing the question of when a causal model is apt for deciding questions of actual causation with respect to some target situation. I first provide relevant background about causal models, explain what makes them promising as a tool for analyzing actual causation, and motivate the need for a theory of aptness as part of such an analysis (Chapter 1). I then define what it is for a model on a given interpretation to be accurate of, that is, say only true things about, some target situation. This involves a systematization of various representational principles mentioned and/or discussed throughout the literature into a method of interpretation, which I propose be taken as standard (Chapter 2). Next, I explain and address two reasons for which accuracy as I’ve defined it is insufficient for aptness. The first reason – already discussed in the literature – is the problem of structural isomorphs. In response, I propose the aptness condition of Explicit Partial Mediation (Chapter 3). The second reason – which has yet to be noticed – is the problem of the indeterminacy of accuracy. As I demonstrate, a model is accurate of a target situation only relative to a set of background possibilities – what I call a modal profile. It follows that a model represents a situation only relative to some modal profile or other. I go on to discuss the ramifications of this observation for a theory of actual causation in terms of models. I argue that the relativity be taken at face value and built into our metaphysical account of causation, resulting in a view that I call causal relativism (Chapter 4). I explore one advantage of this view in detail: that the resulting account can defend the principle of strong proportionality against several objections (Chapter 5). Finally, I apply the earlier discussion of aptness to attempts to provide a semantics of counterfactuals in terms of causal models – an interventionist semantics. I show how just as a similarity semantics relies on an opaque notion of similarity, an interventionist semantics relies on an analogous notion of aptness. The challenge of articulating aptness thus undermines the claim that an interventionist semantics avoids representational problems inherent in a similarity semantics (Chapter 6). I close with a recap and suggestions for future research (Chapter 7).