A Closer Look at Trumping


This paper argues that so-called trumping preemption is in fact overdetermination or early preemption and is thus not a distinctive form of redundant causation. The paper draws a novel lesson from cases thought to be trumping: that the boundary between preemption and overdetermination should be reconsidered.

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  1. 1.

    See Lewis (1973, 1999) and Hall and Paul (2003) for uses of this understanding of completion.

  2. 2.

    Menzies (2008) describes the causal process in cases of late preemption as complete, whereas Hall and Paul (2003) and Hitchcock (2011) describe late preempted processes as incomplete.

  3. 3.

    Here, I assume that overdeterminers are, in fact, causes.

  4. 4.

    Schaffer’s original case, Magic, is odd along two dimensions: first, it uses magical spells, about which it is easy to lack causal intuitions or to consider the classificatory verdict about such processes “spoils to the victor,” in Lewis’ well-known terminology. The idea is that intuitions about the case are too shaky a basis upon which to draw causal conclusions. Second, there are no intermediary events between magical spells and the enchantment, confounding attempts to analyze the structure of causal processes in trumping cases. To get a better grip on what makes trumping distinctive, I introduce a new case before returning to Magic.

  5. 5.

    That the late decision is the correct reading is a widespread assumption in the literature. Schaffer himself (2003) seems to assume this reading, as do Paul and Hall (2003), Hitchcock (2011), and Funkhouser (2009). This reading is natural given the assumption of only one type of causal completion.

  6. 6.

    Moreover, there might be reason to consider trumping joint causation, in which multiple causes are necessary to bring about an effect in exactly the way it occurs.

  7. 7.

    For more on physically insensitive effects, see Bernstein, “Overdetermination and Causal Insensitivity” (MS).

  8. 8.

    Thanks to a referee for this example.

  9. 9.

    “Overdetermining Causes” (2003).

  10. 10.

    See Funkhouser (2009) and Hitchcock (2011) for suspicions about the use of laws in trumping.

  11. 11.

    Let us suppose that the soldiers can recognize and distinguish the respective voices of the higher-ranking officers. Thanks to an anonymous referee for this clarification.

  12. 12.

    Lewis (2000) picks up on the special features of the case, noting that this might be a case of “cutting” (early) preemption.


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Thanks to Christopher Hitchcock, Lewis Powell, Alex Rosenberg, Alex Skiles, Catherine Sutton, and members of the 2013 UMass Mentoring Workshop for valuable feedback on this paper.

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Correspondence to Sara Bernstein.

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Bernstein, S. A Closer Look at Trumping. Acta Anal 30, 41–57 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12136-014-0231-y

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  • Redundant causation
  • Trumping
  • Preemption
  • Overdetermination