PHI302 Causation in Science

Course responsible: Rani Lill Anjum
ECTS credits: 5
Department: School of Economics and Business
Teaching language: EN
(NO=norsk, EN=Engelsk)
Limits of class size:
Minimum 6 students
Teaching exam periods:
June block
Frekvens: Annually
First time: 2012H
Course contents:

Causation is essential for science. In our attempt to understand and influence the world around us, we need to know is what causes what. Once we understand the causal connections, we are in a position to explain what has gone before, predict what will come in the future, and intervene to produce the outcomes we require. While scientists deal with the concrete details, it is philosophers who consider in the abstract what it is for one thing to cause another. The aim of this course is to bring together that abstract philosophical approach to causation with a more concrete understanding of the work actually undertaken by the practitioners of the sciences.

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? The answer should certainly be yes. To find causes we need scientific methods. But which methods are best at picking out causation? It seems plausible to assume that, in order to find causes, we must have some prior knowledge of what causation is. In this project, we wanted to bring together that abstract philosophical approach to causation with a more concrete understanding of the work actually undertaken by the practitioners of the sciences.

Selected topics: What is causation? Causation as correlations. Causation as difference-making. Causation as tendencies. Reductionism and emergence. Finding causes. Predicting effects and explaining causes. Causal complexity. Free will and determinism. What is probability?

In this seminar we will read classic and contemporary texts which will be discussed in the group. The discussions will be backed up with empirical examples. Emphasis will be put on the nature of causation, the relation between our scientific methods and philosophical theories of causation and probability, and on how our scientific practice is influenced and shaped by philosophical assumptions that are part of our methods but rarely criticised or discussed.

Learning outcome:
This course will enable students to present the general outlines of the central philosophical theories of causation, to account for some strengths and weaknesses of these theories, to recognise which philosophical notion of causation is presupposed in certain scientific methods and to identify and critically discuss some shortcomings of a scientific method by using philosophical arguments. The students will also be able to relate some of this knowledge to their own discipline or research area. The student will be expected to demonstrate such understanding in written and oral presentation.
Teaching methods:
Lectures, group work, student presentations, written assignments and group discussions.
Syllabus:
Texts and links will be available on Fronter. As preparation to the course, we recommend the book Causation - A very short introduction, Oxford University Press 2013, by Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum. This book briefly introduces most of the topics that will be discussed in the course.
Prerequisites:
Exam  Philosophicum
Recommended prerequisites:
Examen philosophicum
Mandatory activity:
Students have to attend at least 70 % of the lectures/seminars. Mandatory written and oral assignments.
Exam:
Continuous evaluation, written assignments and oral presentation in class: Passed / Not passed
Nominal workload:
5 studiepoeng
Entrance requirements:
Minimum requirements for entrance to higher education in Norway (generell studiekompetanse)
Reduction of credits:
-
Type of course:
30 hours lectures with discussion. Self-study, group work and preparations: 120 hours.
Merk:
The course is on Master level, but is open for bachelor-, master and Phd-students.
Examination details: Continuous exam: Bestått / Ikke bestått