Course code PHI403

PHI403 Causation in Science

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Showing course contents for the educational year 2018 - 2019 .

Course responsible: Rani Lill Anjum
ECTS credits: 10
Faculty: School of Economics and Business
Teaching language: EN
(NO=norsk, EN=Engelsk)
Teaching exam periods:
Teaching in the June block, including mandatory activities. Submission of essay in August block.
Course frequency: Annually
First time: Study year 2015-2016
Last time: 2019H
Course contents:

This course overlaps to a large degree with PHI302, but includes an additional written essay, including a more in-depth reading list.

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 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.

In addition, the students will write an essay (15-20 pages) on a related topic chosen in collaboration with the teacher. The aim of this work is to get a more in-depth knowledge and understanding of the philosophical theories and issues, and to be able to apply this to one¿s own research.

Learning activities:
Lectures, group work, student presentations, written assignments, essay writing and group discussions.
Teaching support:
Seminars, discussions, supervision

Texts and links will be available on Canvas. 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.

Additional reading is required in relation to the writing of the essay, including more original philosophy texts.

Recommended prerequisites:
Mandatory activity:
Students have to attend at least 65 % of the lectures/seminars. Mandatory written and oral assignments must be passed in order to pass the course. In addition, one must submit an essay and get this passed. These mandatory activities are valid until the next time the course is offered.  
Continuous evaluation, written assignments and oral presentation in class. These overlap with PHI302 (two written assignments, 2-4 pages, one oral presentation in class, one group assignment - all must be passed). In addition a 10-15 page essay must be submitted and passed submission of essay. Topic for the essay must be approved by the teacher. No re-examination. Evaluation of the course: Passed / Not passed
Nominal workload:
10 credits
Entrance requirements:
Students outside NMBU must register for the course before 1 March.
Reduction of credits:
This course overlaps with teaching and mandatory activities for PHI302. This gives 5 credits. In addition this course includes writing of an essay and further reading, which amounts to 5 extra credits, so a total of 10 credits.
Type of course:
300 hours, including preparations and essay writing. About 30 hours of this is lectures and seminar teaching.
This course is for Phd-students at NMBU and other universities who are interested in the relation between philosophical theory and scientific methods and practice.
External examiner
Examination details: Continuous exam: Bestått / Ikke bestått