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Robert Northcott


Robert Northcott is Senior Lecturer in philosophy, and currently BA tutor. He began at Birkbeck in the summer of 2011. 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 philosophy, he has won money at tournaments in pool, poker, and foosball/table football. In his LSE days, he was captain of the University Challenge TV quiz team, reaching the grand final. And recently he made his first ever hole-in-one in golf – hurrah!

Robert’s personal website is at:

Here are links to my phil papers page, and to my 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, the place of causal explanation in evolutionary theory, or the role played by formal theory in economics.
  • At the moment I am working on several papers that examine the notion of progress in science, particularly in light of the widespread use of highly idealized abstract models. What is the relation between the theoretical development of such models, and progress in terms of better predictions and explanations? Do such models really explain messy real-world phenomena? Is the devotion to them of so many intellectual resources and so much prestige defensible?
  • Separately from that, I am also continuing to investigate the nature of causation. In particular, I have been running some experiments with an eye to the light they shed on the relation between causal psychology and metaphysical theory, and in particular on how those two can best be combined.


  • Robert’s recent publications include:
  • ‘A Dilemma for the Doomsday Argument’, Ratio (forthcoming)
  • ‘Opinion polling and election predictions’, Philosophy of Science (forthcoming)
  • ‘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)
  • ‘Degree of explanation’, Synthese 190.15 (2013)
  • ‘It’s just a feeling: why economic models do not explain’, Journal of Economic Methodology 20.3 (2013). (Co-authored with Anna Alexandrova.)
  • ‘Verisimilitude: a causal approach’, Synthese 190.9 (2013)

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.