The MMTS Analysis of Causation

Richard Goldberg (ed.), Perspectives on Causation, Oxford, Hart, 2011

22 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2012 Last revised: 13 Oct 2012

Horacio Spector

University of San Diego School of Law; Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Date Written: 2011


In this paper I present a new theory of causation in moral and legal contexts which I call the minimal-maximal 3-set (MMTS) analysis. I show that the MMTS analysis responds to the objections raised against the nomonological, regularity or covering law theory of causation, the best known version of which is the so-called INUS/NESS account, originating from Hart and Honoré in their seminal Causation in the Law and developed by John Mackie (INUS) and Richard Wright (NESS). The objections to this theory are that it cannot exclude spurious conditions as causes and that it cannot resolve cases of preemption (‘early’ and ‘late’) as well as cases of ‘alternative causation,’ omission and double preemption. I also explain how this MMTS analysis must be supplemented by a counterfactual dependence theory that explains how agents can relate to MMTS causal relations. In so doing, I use the term ‘agent conditioning’ to denote the ways in which agents can condition changes. The MMTS account bears on ‘commissive’ agent-conditioning (making things happen), whereas counterfactual dependence is the proper account for ‘omissive’ agent-conditioning (letting things happen). However, I submit that the MMTS analysis supersedes the INUS/NESS account in two principal respects. First, it supplies a formal non-circular definition of ‘cause’ that avoids obvious counterexamples. Secondly, it provides a separate framework for analyzing acts and omissions, thus removing a major source of puzzles affecting regularity accounts, such as the NESS test.

Keywords: Causation, Acts, Omissions, Responsibility

Suggested Citation

Spector, Horacio, The MMTS Analysis of Causation (2011). Richard Goldberg (ed.), Perspectives on Causation, Oxford, Hart, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Horacio Spector (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella ( email )

Buenos Aires

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