, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 835–843 | Cite as

Thought Experiments and Actual Causation

  • Margherita BenziEmail author


Philosophical works on actual causation make wide use of thought experiments. The principal aim of this paper is to show how thought experiments are used in the contemporary debate over actual causation and to discuss their role in relation to formal approaches in terms of causal models. I claim that a recourse to thought experiments is not something old fashioned or superseded by abstract models, but it is useful to interpret abstract models themselves and to use our intuitions to judge the results of the model. Recent research on actual causation has stressed the importance of integrating formal models with some notion of normality; I suggest that thought experiments can be useful in eliciting intuitions where normality is not intended in a statistical sense. The first expository part (1–3) gives a short presentation of the notion of actual causation, summarising some typical problems of counterfactual approaches and how they are treated in causal and structural models. The second part (4–7) focuses on the problems of model isomorphism and criticises some radical ideas opposing the role of thought experiments, claiming that they may also be of use in evaluating formal models.


Thought experiments Intuition Actual causation Structural models 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesUniversity of Eastern PiedmontVercelliItaly

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