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We are proud to present Nancy Cartwright, distinguished and highly influential contemporary Philosopher of Science as keynote speaker in our Science beyond the Horizon series.

Event details of Science beyond the Horizon with Nancy Cartwright (online)
Date 9 December 2021
Time 16:30 -18:30
"What are the promises and pitfalls of evidence-based policy? Is it a mistake or simply misleading to speak of laws in science?" Nancy Cartwright

Nancy Cartwright is a leading philosopher of science, who has been able to set and drive the agenda of the last three decades in the field. She has done so not just by continuously breaking the ice of consolidated ways of thinking in philosophy of science (for instance about how to conceive of laws in physics and economics) but also in opening new avenues for philosophers, and in collaborations with scientists and policy makers (for instance about how to conceive of evidence, and how to improve on evidence-based policy making).

In this session, we will hear Prof. Cartwright reflecting on the role of philosophy in and for the sciences and policy, and about her views about the next challenges ahead. The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion.

Abstract "Science in the earthly plane"

"This is a series about science and its philosophy ‘Beyond the Horizons’. I will recommend the opposite, not science beyond the horizons but science and philosophy well below the horizons. That is, science and philosophy ‘in the earthly plane,’ as Vienna Circle philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath urged. One dominant image of science pictures it as primarily high theory and breakthrough experiments done by men of genius wresting from nature her deepest secrets. But theory + experiment do not a science make, nor do men of genius. To accomplish anything in the world, every practice and every product of science matters.

So this talk will be in praise of big science. Not big in the sense of grand projects with large teams spending vast sums of money but rather big in the way that a giant Meccano set is big. It consists of a very great many diverse pieces that can be deployed in a great variety of different ways to serve different purposes. Not just theory and experiment but equally models; measurement definitions, procedures, and instruments; concept development and validation; data collection, analysis, and curation; non-experimental studies; statistical techniques; methods of approximation; case studies; narratives; and more. Especially important is the complex ways in which these interweave.

I shall argue that it is because of this vast tangle of other products and practices that we can trust any single product of science to do its job —whether this be an abstract formula in mathematical physics or a poverty measure or a new piece of medical technology. This argues for a far more intellectually humble attitude to the grandeur of science. All the products of science play a crucial role in securing reliability: every labourer is equally worthy their hire."

About the speaker

Nancy Cartwright FBA FAcSS is Professor of Philosophy at Durham University and a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In the first half of her career at Stanford University she specialised in the philosophy of the natural sciences, especially physics; in the second half, at the London School of Economics and now Durham and UCSD, she has specialised in philosophy and methodology of the social sciences with special attention to economics. Her current research focusses on objectivity and evidence, especially for evidence-based policy.



Word of welcome by IAS Scientific Director Huub Dijstelbloem


Introducing the speaker and the topic by Federica Russo


Keynote lecture by Nancy Cartwright




Panel Discussion


General Q&A


  • Sonja Smets - Professor of Logic and Epistemology (University of Amsterdam)
  • Cees Diks - Professor of Data Analysis and Economic Statistics (University of Amsterdam)
  • John Grin - Professor of Policy Science (University of Amsterdam)
  • Maartje Schermer - Professor in Philosophy of Medicine (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
  • Henk de Regt - Professor of Philosophy of Natural Sciences (Radboud University Nijmegen)


Federica Russo, Philosopher of Science, Technology and Information, University of Amsterdam