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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 this year he made his first ever hole-in-one in golf – hurrah!

Robert’s personal website is at:

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:
  • ‘Degree of explanation’, Synthese (forthcoming)
  • ‘Verisimilitude: a causal approach’, Synthese 190.9, June 2013, 1471-1488
  • ‘Natural-born determinists: a new defense of causation as probability-raising’, Philosophical Studies 150.1, August 2010, 1-20
  • ‘Is actual difference making actually different?’ Journal of Philosophy 106.11, November 2009, 629-634
  • ‘Progress in economics’, Ch.11in Don Ross and Harold Kincaid (eds) Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Economics (Oxford 2009), 306-337 (co-authored with Anna Alexandrova)
  • ‘Causation and contrast classes’ Philosophical Studies 139.1, May 2008, pp111-123

Research Supervision

  • Philosophy of Science, especially: the philosophy of special sciences such as economics and biology; causation and causal explanation; and some general themes in philosophy of science such as scientific progress.
  • Some topics that current PhD students of mine are researching: the use of philosophy of biology in some debates in metaphysics; inference to the best explanation; and the use of models and evidence in computer science.