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Robert Northcott

Reader in Philosophy


Robert Northcott is Reader in Philosophy. He began at Birkbeck in the summer of 2011, and in 2017 became Head of Department. Before that, he taught for six years at the University of Missouri-St Louis. He received his PhD from the London School of Economics. Before switching to philosophy, Robert did graduate work in economics, receiving an MSc, and undergraduate work in mathematics and history. Away from academia, he has won money at tournaments in poker, pool, and foosball/table football. In his LSE days, he was captain of the University Challenge TV quiz team, reaching the grand final. More recently, he made his first ever hole-in-one in golf and also at last began to break 80.

Robert’s personal website is at:

Here are links to his phil papers page and to his page.

Research Activity

  • My research is mainly in philosophy of science, and especially the ‘special sciences’ such as biology and economics. I have also written extensively on related themes in metaphysics, especially the notions of causation and causal explanation. These various strands connect when, for instance, analysing the use of statistical techniques to measure causation. I have also applied some of this causal training to debates around several other philosophical issues, including scientific progress, harm, innateness, and free will.
  • My primary interest is in how knowledge is produced in field sciences, i.e. in sciences outside the confines of the laboratory and unable to conduct shielded experiments, with a particular interest in economics. What is the relation, for instance, between the theoretical development of abstract models, and progress in terms of better predictions and explanations of messy real-world events? Broadly speaking, I argue for more emphasis on local empirical work and less on development of generalised theory.
  • Most recently, I have been examining the role in field sciences of prediction. When can we rest content with after-the-fact explanation, and when should we insist instead on accurate prediction? What kind of knowledge do we really have if we can't predict well?


  • Robert’s recent publications include:
  • 'Prediction versus accommodation in economics', Journal of Economic Methodology (forthcoming)
  • 'Pre-emption cases may support, not undermine, the counterfactual theory of causation’, Synthese (forthcoming)
  • 'Free will is not a testable hypothesis', Erkenntnis (forthcoming)
  • 'The efficiency question in economics', Philosophy of Science 85 (2018)
  • 'Conceived this way: Innateness defended', Philosophers’ Imprint 18.18 (2018). (Co-authored with Gualtiero Piccinini.)
  • 'When are purely predictive models best?', Disputatio 9.47 (2017)
  • ‘A dilemma for the Doomsday Argument’, Ratio 29.3 (2016)
  • ‘Opinion polling and election predictions’, Philosophy of Science 82 (2015)
  • ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma doesn’t explain much’, chapter 4 in Martin Peterson (ed) The Prisoner’s Dilemma (Cambridge 2015). (Co-authored with Anna Alexandrova.)
  • ‘Harm and causation’, Utilitas 27.2 (2015)

Research Supervision

  • Robert welcomes research students in any of the areas of his research interests, and is always happy to receive enquiries from prospective students.