My name is Tom Wysocki, and I work on all things causal.

I find causation to be the most exciting concept to investigate because you can ask metaphysical questions about it (e.g., what is causation?), questions in philosophy of science (what is the concept used in the special sciences?), epistemology (how ought we to reason causally?), ethics (is causing an outcome necessary for being responsible for it), philosophy of language (what’s the semantics of counterfactuals?), cognitive science (how do people reason causally?), computer science (how can causal relations be discovered from observational data?). One way or another, I am engaging with all of them.

Currently, I am focusing primarily on two projects: investigating underdeterministic causation—a relation that is non-deterministic but non-probabilistic—and developing the causal-causal theory—a recursive theory of deterministic causation expressed in a new formal framework. I have also worked on metaphilosophy and philosophy of cognitive science, and I will not abandon these interests lightly.

I am about to graduate with a Ph.D. from University of Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science, and start a postdoctoral position at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen; I also have a PhD in economics and a few other degrees. My research in philosophy of causation has been supported by a fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Japan) and the Chateaubriand Fellowship (France); my research in economics has been supported by a grant from the National Science Centre (Poland).

The explanandum:

2023Ph.D.history and philosophy of scienceUniversity of Pittsburgh
2018Ph.D.economicsWrocław University of Economics
2016M.A.philosophy-neuroscience-psychologyWashington University in St. Louis
2011M.A.philosophyUniversity of Wrocław scienceUniversity of Wrocław
2008M.A.managementWrocław University of Economics

And the explanans:

It is a truth universally acknowledged—or at least it was in Poland at the time I was applying to college—that philosophers starve and programmers don’t. So, despite my heart-felt intention to study philosophy, I enrolled in computer sciences studies. (A piece of background: in Poland, you apply to a particular major, which then you can’t switch, and you typically study it for five years and graduate with a master’s.). A year later, I realized I had enough energy to enroll in another major. Yet, since managing programmers makes the prospect of starvation even less likely, I was persuaded to study management. Fast forward two years. It became clear the desire to do philosophy wasn’t a phase I would grow out of or placate with an elective. The philosophy department luckily offered weekend studies—a weekend of classes twice a month. I enrolled. What may seem like lots of work was more like vacations: every other weekend I would forget about the outside world for two days—everyday life would give way to Plato.

Eventually, I graduated with three master’s degrees: management in 2008, computer science in 2010 (it took me some time to finish the thesis), and philosophy in 2011. But I don’t want to imply I did the first two for practical reasons, and only the last reveals my true preferences. That might have been how it started. But in computer science, I took classes in logic, abstract algebra, computational theory, modal logic, and elements of formal semantics; in writing my thesis, I used skills from all these classes. And understating Turing’s proof that there are problems no machine can solve is one of the most philosophically shaking experiences out there. In my management studies, I quickly realized that macro- and microeconomics and econometrics is where all the fun is. I redesigned my studies (thankfully, the university allowed for that if you found a professor who’d OK your plan) to focus on these subjects. Once I graduated, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in economics. I wrote my thesis on economics of education (for knowledge is the highest good, I read somewhere), and I got a National Science Center grant to fund my empirical research. After what happened next, I put the research on the back burner for some time. Still, in 2018, I defended the dissertation; I write more about this research here.

In my fourth year of studying philosophy, I googled Bacon’s experimentum crucis while preparing for an exam. Experimental philosophy popped up in search results. Empirical research, but in philosophy—what’s there not to love? I organized an undergraduate interest group; soon enough, we ran our own experiments—the first xphi studies ever conducted in Poland. One of them married philosophy and economics. We put some people behind (our best approximation of) the veil of ignorance and asked them to discuss and decide on a distribution rule of unknown future payoffs. Our subject weren’t very Rawlsian, to be honest, but the results were interesting enough to submit an abstract to a conference in Japan. It got accepted. Months later, I attended my first international academic conference. There, Stephen Stich saw our presentation and suggested I should apply to graduate school in the U.S., eventually sponsoring a year-long visit in 2011 so I could audit classes and get recommendation letters.

That’s about that. I got into the philosophy-psychology-neuroscience program at Washington University; after three years, with a master’s, I transferred to Pitt HPS. There and here, I took some more classes than the curriculum demanded; I expect to graduate with a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science and a graduate certificate form the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition.

In my last year in the Ph.D. program, I decided to prostelytize about underdeterministic causation outside of Pittsburgh. In the Fall semester of 2022, I visited Pantheon-Sorbonne as a Chateaubriand Fellow; then, in the Spring semester, I visited Kyoto University as a JSPS fellow. While in Kyoto, I co-organized a conference on causation, which I also used as a sprinboard for establishing the Society for Philosophy of Causation. It remains to be seen whether the society gains momentum or shares the fate of similar endeavors.

Underdeterministic causation

Take an event that elevates the modal status of another event. For instance, if Breton hadn’t met Vaché, surrealism wouldn’t have come to be; if he had, it might have. He did. Surrealism began. Therefore, Breton meeting Vaché was a cause (or a causal background condition, if you prefer) of the advent of surrealism. These two counterfactual dependencies suffice to claim a causal relationship between the meeting and the movement. The relationship exemplifies a causal concept, which current theories of causation cannot account for. A new theory is needed: an underdeterministic cause elevate the modal status of its effects. And there’s more. Underdeterministic token causation is a member of an entire family of underdeterministic concepts: type causation, counterfactuals, causal modals, independence, the Causal Markov Condition.

Two papers so far have been published within this project, and I am currently working on three more.

The causal-causal theory

The theory of deterministic causation seems—justifiably or not—the Holy Grail of causal literature, and recently a lot of progress has been made. Particularly effective have proven theories formulated within the structural-equations framework. These theories share two dogmas: that any causal claim is equivalent to some counterfactual claim involving the cause and the effect, and that counterfactual relations are adequately represented with structural equations accompanied by a normality order on events. When I first encountered this literature, I saw a project steadily progressing, with increasingly complex theories handling increasingly complex cases—the stead improvement was palatable to an extent that doesn’t often happen to philosophical research programs. However, I now feel like this progress has halted. A solution, I propose, is to replace the two dogmas.

One paper has been published within this project: a negative paper that shows that no normality ordering can save all causal intuitions that normality orderings were intended to save. I am currently working on a positive theory, which replaces the framework of structural equations with one of polymorphic functions and defines causation recursively: a cause causes its distant effects in virtue of causing these effects direct causes.

Philosophy of cognitive science

Philosophy of mathematics

Fig. 1. Quiz question № 3: what ethical theory am I?

At the University of Pittsburgh, I have independently taught morality and medicine, an introduction to medical ethics, and mind and medicine, an introduction to philosophy of medicine. Here’s the syllabus for the former, and here’s the one for the latter.

At Washington University in St. Louis, I TAed a few times for problems in philosophy, which is an introductory course in philosophy, and present moral problems, which is an introduction to ethics. At Wrocław University of Economics, I taught statistics and TAed a few times in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international economics.

While TAing in macroeconomics, I developed a list of exercises. I find them more useful than the problems in standard textbooks, for here students develop, step by step, the two standard basic models in economics: the Keynesian cross and the IS-LM model. Someone might find the exercises helpful too (they are in Polish).

1101 Cathedral of Learning
4200 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA USA 15260.