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The term ‘actual causation' became firmly established in the philosophical lexicon with Pearl (2000). It has, however, been used extensively in the tort law literature for some time (see e.g. Wright 1985). The term refers to a relation that philosophers often used to (and sometimes still do) call ‘token causation'. In his contribution to this volume, Christopher Hitchcock argues that ‘actual causation' is less misleading than ‘token causation' when deployed as a term for that token-level causal relation that has been the standard target of philosophical analysis. This is because, Hitchcock argues, the standard target of philosophical analysis is not the only kind of token-level causal relation. In their contributions, Max Kistler and David Danks also suggest that actual and token causation should not be equated.
On the notion of non-backtracking counterfactual dependence—which is the variety of counterfactual dependence in terms of which philosophers have attempted to analyze actual causation—see Lewis (1979).
Indeed it is possible to construe structural equations as representing things other than counterfactual dependence relations: for example, Pearl (2000) speaks of them as representing mechanisms; while Baldwin and Neufeld (2004) speak of them as representing law-like regularities. They are thus found to be useful tools even by some who expound non-counterfactual accounts of actual causation (e.g. Hiddleston 2005, and Handfield et al. 2008).
Hall (2007) provides a counterfactual account of causation that he thinks can, but need not be, presented within the structural equation framework.
Interestingly, David Danks, in his contribution to this special issue, argues that the concept of actual causation has a strong prospective aspect (connected to prediction and control), from which its retrospective aspect (connected to explanation) can't be divorced.
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Baumgartner, M., Glynn, L. Introduction to Special Issue on ‘Actual Causation’. Erkenn 78 (Suppl 1), 1–8 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-013-9441-8