Omissions as possibilities
I present and develop the view that omissions are de re possibilities of actual events. Omissions do not literally fail to occur; rather, they possibly occur. An omission is a tripartite metaphysical entity composed of an actual event, a possible event, and a contextually specified counterpart relation between them. This view resolves ontological, causal, and semantic puzzles about omissions, and also accounts for important data about moral responsibility for outcomes resulting from omissions.
KeywordsCausation Omissions Causation by omission Moral responsibility
This paper has benefitted enormously from comments by Mark Heller, Carolina Sartorio, Xiaofei Liu, Rachael Briggs, and Stephen Kearns. I also thank Mark Balaguer, Randy Clarke, Owen Flanagan, Daniel Nolan, Alex Rosenberg, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong for extensive conversation and feedback, and audiences at the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference, Australian National University, Melbourne University, 2012 Pacific APA, Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, Triangle Area Philosophy Symposium, Arizona State University, Boise State University, and Cal State-Los Angeles.
- Beebee, H. (2004). Causing and nothingness. In L. A. Paul, E. J. Hall, & J. Collins (Eds.), Causation and counterfactuals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Bernstein, S. Omission impossible (ms).Google Scholar
- Davidson, D. (1967). The logical form of action sentences. In N. Rescher(Ed.), The logic of decision and action. University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
- Dowe, P. (2010). Proportionality and omissions. Analysis 70(3), 446–451.Google Scholar
- Dowe, P. The power of possible causation (ms).Google Scholar
- Fischer, J. M., Ravizza, M. (1998). Responsibility and control: A theory of moral responsibility. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- McGrath, S. (2005). Causation by omission: A dilemma. Philosophical Studies, 123(1–2), 48–125.Google Scholar
- Sartorio, C. (2006). Disjunctive causes. Journal of Philosophy, 103(10), 521–538.Google Scholar
- Sartorio, C. (2010). The prince of wales problem for counterfactual theories of causation. In A. Hazzlett (Ed.), New waves in metaphysics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Singer, P. (1972). Famine, affluence, and morality. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1(3), 229–243.Google Scholar
- Unger, P. (1995). Living high and letting die. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Wasserman, R. Is causation extensional? (ms).Google Scholar