, 12:117 | Cite as

Lewis’ Modal Realism and Absence Causation

  • Joseph A. BaltimoreEmail author


A major criticism of David Lewis’ counterfactual theory of causation is that it allows too many things to count as causes, especially since Lewis allows, in addition to events, absences to be causes as well. Peter Menzies has advanced this concern under the title “the problem of profligate causation.” In this paper, I argue that the problem of profligate causation provides resources for exposing a tension between Lewis’ acceptance of absence causation and his modal realism. The result is a different problem of profligate causation—one that attacks the internal consistency of Lewisian metaphysics rather than employing common sense judgments or intuitions that conflict with Lewis’ extensive list of causes.


David Lewis Counterfactual theory of causation Absence causation Modal realism 



I am grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for financial support; the funding was used to attend its 2009 Summer Seminar on Metaphysics and Mind, which included a particularly helpful presentation by Phil Dowe on absence causation. Thanks as well to Adam Podlaskowski and Megan Wallace for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


  1. Adams, R.M. (1974). Theories of Actuality. Nous, 8: 211-231. Reprinted in M.J. Loux (ed.), The Possible and the Actual: Readings in the Metaphysics of Modality, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979: 190–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Dowe, P. (2004). Causes are physically connected to their effects: why preventers and omissions are not causes. In Christopher Hitchcock (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Philosopy of Science, Oxford: Blackwell, 189–196Google Scholar
  3. Lewis, D. (1973a). Causation. Journal of Philosophy, 70: 556–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Lewis, D. (1973b). Counterfactuals. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. Lewis, D. (1986). On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  6. Lewis, D. (2000). Causation as Influence. Journal of Philosophy, 97: 182-197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Lewis, D. (2004). Void and Object. In John Collins, Ned Hall, and L.A. Paul (eds.), Causation and Counterfactuals, Cambridge: MIT Press, 277-290.Google Scholar
  8. Menzies, P. (2004). Difference-making in Context. In John Collins, Ned Hall, and L.A. Paul (eds.), Causation and Counterfactuals, Cambridge: MIT Press, 139-180.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

Personalised recommendations