Causation in Science

Expensive first release in hardback, so I will need some justification to buy, but clearly an important topic to me. Causation remains much weirder than everyday common sense. I am not aware of either author or any previous work, so the ” … in science, and the methods of scientific discovery” subtitle scared me a little, that it might be a bit scientistic – reductive and logical-positive.

This blurb, (courtesy of Amazon) …

“[They] propose nine new norms of scientific discovery. A number of existing methodological and philosophical orthodoxies are challenged as they argue that progress in science is being held back by an overly simplistic philosophy of causation.”

… starts with the subtitled focus on scientific methodology and orthodoxy, but does indeed give hope in the final clause:

progress in science is being held back
by an overly simplistic philosophy of causation

This really is a philosophical problem, as close to my agenda as I could expect. Their previous work is even more hopeful:

Rani Lill Anjum is Researcher in Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Applied Philosophy of Science (CAPS) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). She was postdoctoral fellow at the universities of Tromsø and Nottingham.  At NMBU, she then led the Causation in Science research project. She currently leads the research project Causation, Complexity and Evidence in Health Sciences (CauseHealth), funded by the Research Council of Norway (NFR). She has co-written with Stephen Mumford:

Getting Causes from Powers (2011)

Causation: A Very Short Introduction (2013) 

What Tends to Be: the Philosophy of Dispositional Modality (2018)

Stephen Mumford is Professor of Metaphysics in the Department of Philosophy at Durham University as well as Professor II at Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). In addition to co-author of the above, he has written:

Dispositions (1998),

Russell on Metaphysics (2003),

Laws in Nature (2004)

Watching Sport: Aesthetics, Ethics and Emotion (2011)

Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction (2012)

Glimpse of Light (2017) 

The Norwegian connection is particularly interesting to me, one reinforcement of my fear of an overly logical focus but also, more recently, some new positive connections. The sporting connection too – I often use sporting examples as a kind of “morality play” on the evolution of ethical rules through “gaming the system” – Rules for guidance of the wise and the enslavement of fools, etc. Law-like behaviour is evolved, like anything else. If nothing else, I need to do some reading of their existing works methinks.

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[Post Note: I see now, the Durham Uni connection, I must have come across Mumford before. Followed by Anthony Gotlieb. And a Blades fan! I need to pay more attention.]

[Post Note: Intrigued by Mumford as the editor of the “Russell on Metaphysics” collection by Routledge, series editor Anthony Grayling. As a fan of the post-Tractatus Wittgenstein, I hold Russell-the-logician (hero of present day humanism and rationalism) as a kind of evil demon behind the persistence of the logical-positivism of analytic philosophy in the scientism and ever increasing simplistication (eg polarisation) of everyday discourse. Imagine my surprise, then:

Russell discussed many things, including politics, religion and ethics. He was, however, one of the greatest analytic philosophers of the twentieth century and this book includes some of the writings for which he deserves this status. Some of the ideas Russell discusses here may be difficult,  therefore. But Russell thought that in almost all areas of philosophy, clarity and simplicity was possible and that even very difficult ideas could be  stripped down to their easily grasped essentials.

He successfully demonstrates this in these papers […] it is the work of a prominent and important philosopher engaged in metaphysical study. […] To some who know a little of Russell’s philosophy, it might seem strange to speak of him being engaged in metaphysics. He is often depicted as standing squarely in the empiricist tradition that had, on the whole, rejected metaphysics […] If this book has but one aim, it is to relieve its readers of that misconception.

Russell was a metaphysician.

Still holds this clarification-by-simplification (by a logician) fear for me, so I shall be intrigued to see what subtlety I find here.]


Also published on Medium.

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