Annual Conference

Annual Conference 2008

Causation 1500-2000

British Society for the History of Philosophy in association with the University of York Department of Philosophy and supported by Routledge

  • Location: King’s Manor, University of York
  • Dates: 25-27 March 2008
  • Programme (updated 24 March 2008)
  • Abstracts (posted 25 February 2008)
  • How to get to King's Manor

Note on accommodation: Rooms have been reserved at the Ramada Encore Hotel in the centre of York (close to both the station and King’s Manor) at the special rate of £59 B&B per night for the Tuesday and Wednesday nights. But numbers are limited, so you will need to contact the hEmail: otel yourself to book – and pay – for the nights you want as early as possible.

Description of conference

A familiar story in the history of ideas tells us that during the late 16th and early 17th century philosophers and scientists broke away from the constrictions of Aristotelian thinking about the natural world and developed the conceptual foundations of modern science. One of the key concepts in this revolutionary change was causation. Distinctions between different types of causation were dropped and a unified concept, rooted in the developing science of mechanics, became dominant.

This newly minted concept has seen some significant philosophical challenges: over the centuries, philosophers have struggled to understand how causes can necessitate their effects in a contingent world; have denied that we can ever perceive rather than infer causal relations; have been sceptics about causation; have worried about finding a place for mental causation; have tried, with limited success, to apply the mechanical concept of causation in a variety of other areas like biology and optics; and have even suggested that the physical sciences do not really need the concept of a cause. Furthermore, by the end of the 20th century, some philosophers were suggesting that the only way fully to understand our place in nature was to go back to a more Aristotelian way of thinking about at least some causal relations.

This conference aims to explore a variety of issues in the history of philosophy relating to causation: How did this new way of thinking about causation arise? Was it really such a break with the past? Was there really just one concept of causation being developed? How did philosophers adapt the concept to the various challenges it met? Which bits of science did and did not invoke a recognizable concept of causation? Was the science driving the philosophy or the philosophy driving the science? What is so special about mechanics in our way of thinking about the natural world? How did replacing agent-causation with event-causation impact upon religion? Why has causation been such a crucial concept for philosophers? Has there been any progress over the last five centuries?


  • Thomas Baldwin (York), Russell on Causation

  • Martha Brandt Bolton (Rutgers), Causality, Physical and Mathematical Induction: the necessitarian and “skeptical” theory of Lady Mary Shepherd

  • Angela Breitenbach (Cambridge), Kant and the Limits of the Mechanical Explanation of Nature

  • Josie D'Oro (Keele), The Reasons/Causes Debate Before and After Davidson

  • William Eaton and Robert Higgerson (Georgia Southern), Causation and the Cartesian Reduction of Motion: God's Role in Grinding the Gears

  • Gary Hatfield (Pennsylvania), Mind/Body Causation and Neutral Monism: Helmholtz, Mach, and James

  • Boris Hennig (Pittsburgh), Causation and the Unity of Events

  • Andreas Hüttemann (Münster), The elimination of causal vocabulary from physics in the late nineteenth century

  • George MacDonald Ross (Leeds), Teaching the History of the Concept of Cause

  • Phyllis McKay and Jon Williamson (Kent), Mechanisms and Causality

  • Peter Millican (Oxford), Hume, Causal Realism, and Free Will: The State of the Debate

  • Walter Ott (Virginia Tech), Causation, Intentionality, and the Case for Occasionalism

  • Pauline Phemister (University of Edinburgh), Monads and Machines

  • Stathis Psillos (Athens), Regularities all the way down: Thomas Brown's Philosophy of Causation

  • Constantine Sandis (Oxford Brookes), The Influence of Hume's Empiricist Theory of Meaning on his Account of Causation

  • Eric Schliesser (Leiden), Colin MacLaurin's Newtonian refutation of Spinoza, and the Fate of Final Causes in the Hands of Hume

  • Tad Schmaltz (Duke University), Primary and Secondary Causes in Descartes's Physics

  • Peter Simons (Leeds), Causation in Whitehead

  • Fred Wilson (Toronto), Mill on the Logical Structure of Causal Theories

  • David Wootton (York), Galileo: Causation, Representation, Intervention

Postgraduate speakers

  • Aaron D. Cobb (Saint Louis), An Eighteenth-Century Critique of Productive Cause Explanations

  • Michael Funk Deckard (Leuven), Edmund Burke on Formal, Material and Efficient Causes of Beauty

  • Kile Jones (Glasgow), Hume, Causality, and The New Hume Debate

  • Anna Zielinska (Grenoble), Indeterminacy of Causation in the Philosophy of Action


  • Dr Michael Beaney, Department of Philosophy, University of York

  • Richard Flockemann, Department of Philosophy, University of York

  • Dr Tom Stoneham, Department of Philosophy, University of York