Preemptive Omissions

Abstract

Philosophers have already recognized the importance of causal preemption involving “positive” events. First, preemption with positive events raises problems for counterfactual theories of causation. Second, theories of moral and legal responsibility rely heavily on the concept of causation, so accurately assessing responsibility in preemption cases requires correctly assessing their causal structure. However, philosophers have not discussed preemption involving “negative” events or omissions. This paper argues that cases of preemptive omissions exist and have important implications for theories of causation and for moral and legal responsibility. Of theoretical importance, the alterations made to counterfactual theories of causation to address preemption with positive events do not seem to work for accommodating preemptive omissions. Of practical importance, there have been actual legal cases involving preemptive omissions, and at least one such case was, this paper contends, decided incorrectly on erroneous causal grounds. This paper identifies what must happen for preemptive omissions to obtain. It then argues for the existence of preemptive omissions by constructing a series of cases and drawing structural parallels between preemption cases with positive events and cases with omissions. It ultimately presents a formula for generating preemptive omissions and examines both why “traditional” methods of generating preemption fail for omissions and why the proposed method avoids such concerns.

June 7, 2022 at 01:24AM

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