Causation and Responsibility: Fact or Ascription?

Public Lecture and Masterclass at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics

A depressed person acquires an occupational disability after an accident. To what extent is the perpetrator of the accident also responsible? A public lecture and a masterclass with Richard Wright and Ingeborg Puppe (27–28 April) will deal with the relationship of causation and responsibility.

The public lecture by Richard W. Wright (Chicago) will take place in the Conference Room (Hörsaal) KTh II (ground floor) at the Faculty of Roman Catholic Theology of the University of Münster.

The master class will take place in room GE 1.32 (1st floor) at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics. Participation is free of charge, however, since space in the masterclass seminar room is limited, please register with Ms Ruth Langer by 21 April 2017. Langer will also send you the texts to be discussed during the masterclass.

Causation and Responsibility: Fact or Ascription?

In legal literature of both the German- and the English-speaking world the nexus of the consequences brought about by an action and an agent‘s responsibility for these consequences has been discussed for ages. While for a number of cases there is consensus that a causal relation is a necessary prerequisite of responsibility, trouble starts with the concept of causation itself. There is even more disagreement when it comes to the further conditions needed for the actual attribution of legal or even moral responsibility for things caused.

The standard equivalence thesis according to which any necessary condition of a legally relevant outcome is considered a cause is applied by lawyers by means of a counterfactual test of ‘conditio-sine-qua-non’ or of ‘causation-in-fact’ in which it is being asked whether ‘but for these conditions would the event have occurred?’. Theorists then try to restrict this immensely inclusive notion of causation and find solutions for cases such as overdetermination and pre-emption not adequately accounted for by the equivalence thesis.

In German-speaking legal orders the so-called doctrine of objective attribution (Lehre der objektiven Zurechnung) is to solve such cases whereas in the English-speaking world there are other normative approaches to restrict causation such as a harm-within-the-risk test.

Richard W. Wright, University Distinguished Professor and Professor of Law at the Chicago-Kent College of Law of Illinois Institute of Technology, and Ingeborg Puppe, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Bonn, have each developed a theory of causation in the law supposed to solve both problems of causation and attribution. While Wright’s approach has become well-known under the acronym of NESS (necessary element of a sufficient set), Puppe’s idea is as well that a cause has to be part of a bundle of conditions which can only in its entirety be sufficient for the occurrence of an event.


Public Lecture  Thursday 27 April 2017
18:00 (c.t.) Principles of Liability: Justice or Efficiency
Richard W. Wright (Chicago)
in the Conference Room (Hörsaal) KTh II (groundfloor) of the Faculty of Roman Catholic Theology at the University of Münster
Master Class – Friday 28 April 2017
14:00 – 18:30 Causation and Responsibility: Fact or Ascription?
In-depth discussion with Richard W. Wright (Chicago) and Ingeborg Puppe (Bonn) of their respective approaches on the basis of a representative paper by each
in Seminar Room GE 1.32 (1st floor) at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics