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Spring 2013 Science Conversation

Nancy Cartwright:  Systems, Mechanisms, and the Modeling of Society

Thursday, February 28, 7:30 pm
Lynch Auditorium
University of Dallas

Science can help build a better society. That’s the point of evidence-based policy.  But, what’s good evidence? In particular, should we experiment or should we model? Current orthodoxy favors experiment, endorsing randomized controlled trials which show that a policy has worked somewhere and disparaging “mechanistic evidence.” But knowing about somewhere is of little help for policy prediction here. Causal connections between policies and outcomes are not written into the fabric of nature. They depend on underlying mechanisms—or social structures—that give rise to them. And to understand those, you have to model. So, what’s so bad about modeling?

Nancy Cartwright is professor of philosophy at Durham University in England and at the University of California, San Diego. Her principal interests are philosophy and history of science (especially physics and economics), modeling in science, causal inference, and evidence and objectivity in science and policy.

Cartwright is a Fellow of the British Academy, a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the German Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. She was recently president of the Philosophy of Science Association and of the American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division. She holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She is currently engaged in a project, at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, on evaluating and predicting the effectiveness of interventions to mitigate the effects of climate change, and has recently published a book with Jeremy Hardie, Evidence-based Policy: Doing It Better. A Practical Guide to Predicting if a Policy Will Work For You.

She is also co-director of a large research project titled “God’s Order, Man’s Order and the Order of Nature,” sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. The Order Project aims to explore groundbreaking ideas about the order of nature as pictured through modern science, and bring them to bear on well-established views of God, nature and man. Lectures given under the aegis of the project range from “Darwin on Law and Order” to “The Philosophy of Gerard Manley Hopkins.”

Cartwright’s books also include Causal Powers: What Are They? Why Do We Need Them? What Can and Cannot be Done with Them? (2007); Hunting Causes and Using Them: Studies in Philosophy and Economics (2007); Measuring Causes: Invariance, Modularity and the Causal Markov Condition (2000); The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science (1999); Otto Neurath: Philosophy between Science and Politics, with Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck and Thomas E. Uebel (1996); Nature's Capacities and their Measurement (1989); How the Laws of Physics Lie (1983).

Nancy Cartwright

Nancy Cartwright, professor of philosophy at Durham University (Durham, UK) and at the University of California, San Diego

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