Department of Philosophy

Causation vs Constitution: Loosening the Friction

Title of the conference against a background of boards
Illustration photo
Vigdis Kvam

About the conference

Theories of mechanistic explanation hold that an explanandum phenomenon (e.g., a car moving) is explained by its constituting entities (e.g., the car engine) and activities (e.g., the engine running). Such mechanistic explanations are often interpreted as 'downward-looking': they explain upper-level phenomena in terms of their lower-level constituents. They differ from causal explanations, which explain effects in terms of their causes, and are thus 'backward-looking'.

Constitution is prima facie different from causation, on the alleged ground that it is a synchronic and mutual dependence relation. Yet, most have proposed to define constitution along the lines of causation and to use causal discovery methods also for constitutional discovery. At the same time, it is a widely held tenet in the modeling literature that causal and constitutional dependence relations must not be mixed in analyzed variable sets. This creates an apparent tension: on the one hand analyzing constitutive relations seems to presuppose means from causal modeling, on the other hand, such means must only be applied to variable sets that are free of constitutive dependencies.

This conference brings together scholars working on the conceptual and methodological interplay between causal and constitutional dependencies, with the aim of making progress in resolving the apparent tension between these two modes of explanation, discovery, and modeling.


List of speakers

Mark Couch (Seton Hall)
Frederick Eberhardt (CalTech)
Markus Eronen (Groningen)
Peter Fazekas (Antwerp/Aarhus)
Alexander Gebharter (Düsseldorf)
Jens Harbecke (Witten)
David Kinney (LSE)
Beate Krickel (Bochum)
Bert Leuridan (Antwerp)
Daniel Malinsky (Johns Hopkins)
Alessio Moneta (Pisa)
Maria Serban (Copenhagen)
Jiji Zhang (Lingnan)


Mon 3 Dec

9:00-10:00 Bert Leuridan (University of Antwerp) - 'Constitution versus Causation -- What after the Redux?'
10:00-10:20 coffee break
10:20-11:20 Maria Serban (University of Copenhagen) - 'Reconstruction (not interlevel) experiments'
11:20-12:20 Peter Fazekas (University of Antwerp and AarhusUniversity) - 'Flat hands are surgical in a flat world: Constitution and mutual manipulability in flat mechanisms'
12:20-14:00 lunch break
14:00-15:00 Markus Eronen (University of Groningen) - 'Discovering constitutive relevance through interventions: Obstacles and challenges'
15:00-15:20 coffee break
15:20-16:20 Beate Krickel (Ruhr University Bochum) - 'Mechanistic Constitution - How many relations?'
16:20-17:20 Daniel Malinsky (Johns Hopkins University) - 'Learning about changes to causal structure'

Tue 4 Dec

9:00-10:00 Alexander Gebharter (University of Groningen) and Jens Harbecke (Witten/Herdecke University) - 'Constitutive relevance discovery without interventions: Boole meets Bayes'
10:00-10:20 coffee break
10:20-11:20 Mark Couch (Seton Hall University) - 'How to model dependency relations using INUS conditions'
11:20-12:20 Jiji Zhang (Lingnan University) - 'Structural equation models with both causation and constitution'
12:20-14:00 lunch break
14:00-15:00 Frederick Eberhardt (CalTech) - 'Causal Macro Variables'
15:00-15:20 coffee break
15:20-16:20 David Kinney (LSE) - 'Pragmatic Causal Feature Learning'
16:20-17:20 Alessio Moneta (Scuola Superiore Sant'anna) - 'Independent Components and the Causation-Constitution Distinction'


Practical information

No formal registration required, but please send an email to kirsten.bang@uib.no indicating which days you will be attending.



Michael Baumgartner (University of Bergen, Norway)
Lorenzo Casini (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Veli-Pekka Parkkinen (University of Bergen, Norway)