Some of the chief goals of science are understanding, explanation, prediction and application in new technologies. Only if the world has some significant degree of constancy in what follows from what can these scientific activities be conducted with any purpose. But what is the source of such predictability and how does it operate? In many ways, this is a question that goes beyond science itself – beyond the data – and inevitably requires a philosophical approach. This course starts from the perspective that causation is the main foundation upon which science is based.
Should scientists concern themselves, however, with what philosophers have to say? On this issue we argue that the answer should certainly be yes. It is philosophy that tells us about the nature of causation and thus what we should be looking for when we investigate the world. Every scientist makes presuppositions. They rest their endeavours upon assumptions that are not themselves empirical. These assumptions are meta-scientific. Scientists conduct experiments, for instance: trials and interventions that change one thing to see what changes with it. Without a belief in causal connections, or in something being causally responsible for those changes, such experimentation would have no point because there would be no possible future application.
For some time, philosophers have paid an interest in science, attempting to make their philosophical theories better informed empirically. What has been too often neglected is the opposite ideal: of making our scientific practice better informed philosophically. In the case of causation this is absolutely crucial for it can make a significant difference to how science is conducted. If one is persuaded that causes are difference makers, for instance, this is what one will seek to find. If one thinks causes are regularities, one must instead look for them.
In this course, taught by Rani Lill Anjum and Stephen Mumford, a number of problems will be raised concerning how science searches for causes. The aim of the course is not to present an overview of the philosophy of causation. Instead, there will be an attempt to address the problems of causation as they confront the scientist in their everyday practice. A range of topics will be introduced, from their forthcoming book on causation in scientific methods. You can see the types of issues that will be addressed in the list of contents. See also abstracts for more details.
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