What Is the Metaphysics of Causation?


Jane Flores

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence and reality. The concept of causation is an important topic in metaphysics, as it refers to the relationship between events or objects where one is responsible for producing an effect in the other. In this article, we’ll explore the metaphysics of causation and some of the central theories surrounding it.

Defining Causation

Before delving into the metaphysical aspects of causation, it’s important to first define what we mean by “causation”. At its core, causation refers to a relationship between two events or objects where one event or object (the cause) produces an effect in the other event or object (the effect). For example, if I throw a ball (the cause), it will travel through the air and eventually hit a Target (the effect).

Hume’s Theory of Causation

One of the most well-known theories of causation was proposed by David Hume in his book “A Treatise on Human Nature”. According to Hume, there are three necessary conditions for causation:

  • The cause must be prior to (or simultaneous with) the effect.
  • The cause and effect must be constantly conjoined.
  • There must be a necessary connection between the cause and effect.

Hume argued that we cannot observe this necessary connection between cause and effect directly. Rather, we observe a constant conjunction between them. We infer that there is a causal relationship between them based on our past experiences.

Aristotle’s Theory of Causation

Another theory of causation was proposed by Aristotle. According to Aristotle, there are four types of causes:

  • The material cause – what something is made out of.
  • The efficient cause – what brings something into existence.
  • The formal cause – the structure or form of something.
  • The final cause – the purpose or end goal of something.

For example, Aristotle would argue that the material cause of a statue is the marble it’s made out of, the efficient cause is the sculptor who created it, the formal cause is its shape and structure, and the final cause is its purpose (such as being a work of art).

Contemporary Theories of Causation

In contemporary philosophy, there are several theories of causation that attempt to reconcile Hume’s and Aristotle’s ideas. One such theory is the counterfactual theory of causation. According to this theory, an event A causes an event B if and only if, if A had not occurred, B would not have occurred either.

Another theory is the manipulation theory of causation. This theory argues that causes are those things that we can manipulate in order to produce an effect. For example, we can manipulate a light switch to turn on a light bulb.


The metaphysics of causation is a complex topic with many different theories and approaches. From Hume’s emphasis on constant conjunction and necessary connection to Aristotle’s four types of causes, philosophers have long grappled with understanding how events and objects relate to one another in causal terms.

Contemporary theories attempt to reconcile these ideas while also introducing new perspectives on causation. By understanding these various theories, we can gain a deeper appreciation for how we understand reality and existence itself.