PHI302 Causation in Science
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.