Greece, Kavala

Knowing the Real Causes: The Possibility of Science from Aristotle to Today

online course
when 2 August 2020 - 9 August 2020
language English
duration 1 week
credits 1.5 EC
fee USD 450

In natural science we aim not merely to know what happens, or to predict what will happen next, but to understand why, to uncover the cause of what happens. But the relation of cause to effect is not immediately present to our senses, or in the data. To use David Hume’s famous example, we see the first billiard ball strike the second and the second move, but we do not see the causing of that motion by the first ball. This raises a host of philosophical questions: What is causation? Where do we get the idea of causation from in the first place, if not from our senses? How can we know the real causal relations in the world? And, if science really does aim at uncovering causes, how is this possible? We will examine these philosophical questions, and more, by reading authors, from classical antiquity to today, who transformed our conception of what it is to know reality. We shall begin with Aristotle’s conception of cause (aitia) and his definition of science (epistēmē) as knowledge from causes, and David Hume’s sceptical attack on the very idea of causation as necessary connection. We will then examine, in Immanuel Kant’s words, how Hume’s problem about causation “awoke” Kant “from his dogmatic slumbers” and prompted him to ask “how is natural science (knowledge of causes) possible?”. After discussing some reasons to be dissatisfied with Kant’s own answer to his question, in the second half of the seminar we will examine Nelson Goodman’s “new riddle” about the possibility of scientific knowledge and several accounts of natural science and its possibility (e.g. Kuhn, Popper, Friedman). We will consider whether these contemporary writers have successfully explained how knowledge of real causes is possible, or whether Kant’s question “how is natural science possible?” remains just as pressing today.

Course leader

Nick Stang, University of Toronto

Target group

From high school seniors to college professors

Fee info

USD 450: It includes attendance of the lectures, hotel, two meals/day, an all-day excursion


Yes. See our registration page for more details.