Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Carol Cleland

Second Advisor

Graeme Forbes

Third Advisor

Raul Saucedo


James Woodward develops in his book Making Things Happen (2003) an account of causation and explanation based on the concept of intervention. An intervention, in turn, parallels the concept of experimentation—widely used in the sciences—and offers an intuitive grasp of the more complex notions of causation and explanation, so Woodward’s theory could provide a methodologically useful basis for scientific practice involving causation. In this essay I argue that both Woodward’s theory of causation and of explanation suffer from important metaphysical problems as well as crucial practical difficulties, and they are ultimately unsuccessful. Metaphysical problems of his theory of causation derive from the fact that an intervention is essentially a counterfactual notion, but Woodward fails to determine with precision what are the truth conditions for counterfactuals. In addition, his theory lacks a clear notion possibility to make sense of those counterfactuals. The practical aspect of his theory of causation as a methodology for science also suffers from serious problems, since in order know a specific causal claim it is required to have a vast background knowledge about other causal relations, demanding too high epistemic standards. Finally I argue that Woodward’s theory of explanation, which comprehends both causal and non-causal explanations, faces a decisive counterexample and is flawed too.