Causation and Responsibility in a Complex World

32 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 26 Jul 2010

Date Written: 2010


The concept of cause is closely linked to that of power, and power is related to our sense of who or what is responsible for outcomes. In a complex world, such attributions are difficult. As Stephen Krasner has shown, the apparent agents of power and responsibility may not be the crucial ones. This topic is explored first through examining sufficient causation and the problems created by multiple sufficient causation. This is followed by a discussion of the parallel problems that appear when we look at necessary conditions. I then turn to complexities created by chronology, which include the fact that the choices actors confront may be structured by the actions and power of others, and the need to choose a starting point in the interaction, which can be both arbitrary and crucial.

Suggested Citation

Jervis, Robert, Causation and Responsibility in a Complex World (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Robert Jervis (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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