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  • Alex Broadbent (a1)


This paper takes it as a premise that a distinction between matters of fact and of law is important in the causal inquiry. But it argues that separating factual and legal causation as different elements of liability is not the best way to implement the fact/law distinction. What counts as a cause-in-fact is partly a legal question; and certain liability-limiting doctrines under the umbrella of “legal causation” depend on the application of factual-causal concepts. The contrastive account of factual causation proposed in this paper improves matters. This account more clearly distinguishes matters of fact from matters of law within the cause-in-fact inquiry. It also extends the scope of cause-in-fact to answer some questions currently answered by certain doctrines of legal causation—doctrines that, it is argued, are more naturally seen as applications of our ordinary causal concept than as noncausal liability-limiting devices.



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1. Wright, Richard, Causation in Tort Law, 73 Cal. L. Rev. 17351828 (1985), at 1740.

2. Id. at 1803.

3. John Mackie, The Cement of the Universe (1974).

4. Fumerton, Richard & Kress, Ken, Causation and the Law: Preemption, Lawful Sufficiency and Causal Sufficiency, 64 Law & Contemp. Probs. 83105 (2001), at 102.

5. Lewis, David, Causation, 70 J. Phil. 556567 (1973); David Lewis, 2 Philosophical Papers (1986), see, e.g., id., Postscript E to “Causation.”

6. Cork v. Kirby Maclean, Ltd., [1952] 2 All E.R. 402; Barnett v. Kensington & Chelsea Hosp., [1969] 1 Q.B. 428. Many other authorities could be cited.

7. David Lewis, Causation as Influence, in Causation and Counterfactuals 75–106 (J. Collins, N. Hall & L. A. Paul eds., 2004).

8. John Collins, Preemptive Prevention, in Causation and Counterfactuals 107–117 (J. Collins, N. Hall & L. A. Paul eds., 2004); Jonathan Schaffer, Trumping Preemption, in Causation and Counterfactuals 59–73 (J. Collins, N. Hall & L. A. Paul eds., 2004).

9. Broadbent, Alex, Reversing the Counterfactual Analysis of Causation, 15 Int'l J. Phil. Stud.169189 (2007), at 177; see also the Smart Rock example in Ned Hall, Two Concepts of Causation, in Causation and Counterfactuals 225–276 (J. Collins, N. Hall & L. A. Paul eds., 2004), at 237.

10. Fairchild v. Glenhaven Funeral Servs., Ltd., & Others, [2003] 1 A.C. 32.

11. In particular addressing the tension between Wilsher v. Essex Area Health Auth., [1988] 1 All E.R. 871; and McGhee v. Nat'l Coal Bd., [1973] 1 W.L.R. 1 (HL).

12. Malone, Wex, Ruminations on Cause-in-Fact, 9 Stan. L. Rev.6099 (1956).

13. Again, this is well illustrated by the tension between Wilsher v. Essex Area Health Auth., [1988] 1 All E.R. 871; and McGhee v. Nat'l Coal Bd. [1973] 1 W.L.R. 1 (HL); subsequently resolved by Fairchild v. Glenhaven Funeral Servs., Ltd., & Others, [2003] 1 A.C. 32.

14. Lewis, supra note 5, Causation, at 162.

15. John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive 237 (8th ed. 1887). The Mill-Lewis line is also discussed in Jonathan Schaffer, Contrastive Causation, 114 Phil. Rev. 297–328 (2005), at 342–343.

16. H.L.A. Hart & A. Honoré, Causation in the Law (2d ed. 1985), at 26–61.

17. Peter Lipton, Causation Outside the Law, in Jurisprudence: Cambridge Essays 127–148 (H. Gross & T.R. Harrison eds., 1992).

18. Hart and Honoré, supra note 16, at 22–25.

19. Schaffer, supra note 15, at 343.

20. Jonathan Schaffer, The Metaphysics of Causation, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2007),

21. Other philosophical defenses of selective notions of causation include C. J. Ducasse, On the Nature and the Observability of the Causal Relation, 23 J. Phil. 57–68 (1926); Lipton, supra note 17; Peter Menzies, Causation in Context, in Russell's Republic Revisited: Causation, Physics, and the Constitution of Reality 191–223 (Huw Price & Richard Corry eds., 2007); Alex Broadbent, The Difference between Cause and Condition, Proc. Aristotelian Soc'y (2008) 355–364.

22. Scott v. Shepherd, [1773] 2 Bl. R. 892. Legal scholars may be uneasy about the fact that this case concerns trespass, not negligence; indeed it considerably predates the tort of negligence as we now know it. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how that can excuse theorists of the modern tort of negligence from answering Blackstone's challenge, especially since the case remains an authority in negligence (albeit a venerable one).

23. Cf. Knightley v. Johns, [1982] 1 W.L.R. 349.

24. Baker v. Willoughby, [1970] A.C. 467.

25. The Wagon Mound (No 1), [1961] A.C. 388.

26. Id.

27. E.g., on learner drivers in Nettleship v. Weston, [1971] 2 Q.B. 691.

28. Peter Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation (2d ed. 2004), ch. 3; Peter Lipton, Contrastive Explanation, in Explanation and Its Limits 246–266 (D. Knowles ed., 1990); see also David Lewis, Causal Explanation, in 2 Philosophical Papers 214–241 (1986); Adam Garfinkle, Forms of Explanation 28–41 (1981); Bas Van Fraassen, The Scientific Image 126–129 (1980).

29. Lipton, supra note 28, Inference to the Best Explanation, at 42.

30. Hart & Honoré, supra note 16, at 35–36.

31. I am grateful to Jonathan Schaffer for this counterexample.

32. Lipton, supra note 17.

33. Schaffer, supra note 15, at 345. Schaffer's theory differs from Lipton's, proposing “c rather that C* causes e rather than E*” as the underlying form of causal claims. Lipton's contrastive theory specifies a contrast for the effect only, however, which is then supposed to determine (or narrow down) the selection of the cause.

34. Contrastive accounts of explanation in the philosophy of science do not provide inspiration here either. Contrastive explanations are answers to contrastive why questions, and explaining why we ask the questions we do is “not part of providing a model of explanation, as that task has traditionally been construed”; Lipton, supra note 28, Inference to the Best Explanation, at 46.

35. The Empire Jamaica; N V Koninklijke Rotterdamsche Lloyd and Others v. Western Steamship Co Ltd, [1956] 3 All ER at 144.

36. Schaffer, supra note 15 at 345.

* I am grateful to Roderick Bagshaw, John Clifford, Vanessa Heggie, Matthew Kramer, Amit Pundik, Nicky Reeves, Jane Stapleton, an anonymous referee, and especially Jonathan Schaffer for their help. I am also grateful to audiences at the Hughes Hall Centre for Biomedical Science in Society, the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group, and the Edinburgh Festival for Legal Theory. I am grateful to the PHG Foundation for supporting part of this research.


  • Alex Broadbent (a1)


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