Nancy Cartwright (philosopher)

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Nancy Cartwright
Nancy Cartwright 2007.jpg
Born (1944-06-24) June 24, 1944 (age 76)
Alma materUniversity of Pittsburgh
University of Illinois at Chicago
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Stanford School
Main interests
Philosophy of science
Notable ideas
Entity realism
President of the DLMPST/IUHPST
In office
Preceded byMenachem Magidor

Nancy Cartwright, Lady Hampshire, FBA, FAcSS (born 24 June 1944)[2] is an American philosopher of science. She is a professor of philosophy at the University of California at San Diego and the University of Durham. Currently, she is the President of the Division for Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.


Cartwright earned her BSc from the University of Pittsburgh in mathematics and her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (Congress Circle campus). Her thesis was on the concept of mixture in quantum mechanics. Before taking her current appointments, she taught at the University of Maryland, Stanford University and the London School of Economics. She has held visiting appointments at the University of Oslo, Princeton University, Caltech, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Cambridge and UCLA. She is currently Tsing Hua Honorary Distinguished Chair Professor at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and Visiting Research Fellow at Ca' Foscari University in Venice. She co-founded the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (CPNSS) at the LSE and the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) at the University of Durham.

Cartwright has mentored several students in England and the United States who have gone on to become professional philosophers of science, including Naomi Oreskes, Carl Hoefer, Mauricio Suarez, Andrew Hamilton, Julian Reiss, Roman Frigg, Gabriele Contessa, Anna Alexandrova, Leah McClimans, Jacob Stegenga, Jeremy Howick, Marta Halina, Joyce Havstad, Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam, Peter Menzies, Martin Thomson-Jones, Matt Brown, Hasok Chang, Jordi Cat, Sophia Efstathiou, Sang Wook Yi, Towfic Shomar and Szu-Ting Chen. She was also a supervisor of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.[3]

Cartwright was married to the philosopher Stuart Hampshire until his death in 2004. She was also previously married to Ian Hacking. She has two daughters, Emily and Sophie Hampshire Cartwright, and two granddaughters, Lucy Charlton and Tabitha Emily Cartwright Spray.[citation needed]

Main contributions[edit]

Cartwright's approach to the philosophy of science is associated with the "Stanford School" of Patrick Suppes, John Dupré, Peter Galison and Ian Hacking. It is characterized by an emphasis on scientific practice as opposed to abstract scientific theories. Cartwright has made important contributions to debates on laws of nature, causation and causal inference, scientific models in the natural and social sciences, objectivity and the unity of science. Her recent work focuses on evidence and its use in informing policy decisions.

Carl Hoefer describes Cartwright's philosophy in the following terms:[4]

Nancy Cartwright's philosophy of science is, in her view, a form of empiricism but empiricism in the style of Neurath and Mill, rather than of Hume or Carnap. Her concerns are not with the problems of skepticism, induction, or demarcation; she is concerned with how actual science achieves the successes it does, and what sort of metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions are needed to understand that success.

Cartwright, like many working scientists themselves, takes a rather pragmatic/realist stance toward observations and interventions made by scientists and engineers and particularly toward their connections to causality: Scientists see impurities causing signal loss in a cable, and they stimulate an inverted population, causing it to lase. Given these starting points, there can be no question of a skeptical attitude toward causation, in either singular or generic form. The fundamental role (or better, roles) played by causation in scientific practice is undeniable; what Cartwright does, then, is reconfigure empiricism from the ground up based on this insight. In the reconfiguration process, many mainstays of the received view of science take a beating; especially [...] the fundamentality of laws of nature.

Honors and awards[edit]

Cartwright served as the president of the Philosophy of Science Association (2009–10),[5] as vice-president (2007–8) and president (2008–9) of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association,[6] and was elected to be President of the Division for Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology from 2020 to 2023.[7] She is Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics. She is also Fellow of the British Academy, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society.[8] She has received honorary degrees from Southern Methodist University and the University of St Andrews as well as a MacArthur Fellowship.[9]

Cartwright was the recipient of the Martin R. Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement of the Phi Beta Kappa Society 2017 (alongside Elliott Sober) and was awarded the Carl Gustav Hempel Award in 2018 by the Philosophy of Science Association.

In 2017 Cartwright was selected by the American Philosophical Association Committee to deliver The Paul Carus Lectures. The series was entitled 'Nature, the Artful Modeler: Lectures on Laws, Science, How Nature Arranges the World and How We Can Arrange It Better' and the lectures entitled: -

  1. Her raw materials: powers, 'mechanisms', and causes. She manages actual possibilities, obeys the Barcan formula, and does not sit down with counterfactuals.
  2. Her methods: our methods ... That's why ours work so well. But she is not a Kant, a Mussoloini, nor a Hilbert. Perhaps Isambard Brunel, Margaret Knight, or Mary Berry.
  3. Her limits: Picking up where Nature leaves off, building it better, and warranting your work.

Selected works[edit]


  • How the Laws of Physics Lie, Oxford University Press (August 1983) ISBN 0-19-824704-4. Translated to Chinese.
  • Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement, Oxford University Press (October 1989) ISBN 0-19-824477-0
  • The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science, Cambridge University Press (September 1999) ISBN 0-521-64411-9
  • Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics, Cambridge University Press (June 2007) ISBN 0-521-86081-4. Translated to Chinese.
  • Evidence Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing It Better, with Jeremy Hardie, Oxford University Press (2012)
  • Philosophy of Social Science: a new introduction", with Eleonora Montuschi, Oxford University Press (2014)
  • Improving Child Safety: deliberation, judgement and empirical research, with Munro, E., Hardie, J. and Montuschi, E. (2017)
  • Nature, the Artful Modeler: Lectures on Laws, Science, How Nature Arranges the World and How We Can Arrange It Better (The Paul Carus Lectures). Open Court (2019)



  1. ^ "02/06/2009". In Our Time (BBC Radio 4). 2 July 2009. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
  2. ^ Brown (ed.) Diane Collinson, Robert Wilkinson, Stuart; Wilkinson, Collinson (ed.); Wilkinson (ed.), Robert (2002). Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. USA & Canada: Routledge. p. 132. ISBN 9780415286053.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ "LSE insider claims Gaddafi donation was openly joked about;". The Independent. 13 March 2011. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  4. ^ Hartmann, Stephann, Hoefer, Carl and Luc Bovens (eds.) - Nancy Cartwright's Philosophy of Science. London: Routledge. 2008. p. 14.
  5. ^ "Philosophy of Science Association – Governance". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
  6. ^ "Pacific Division Officers & Committees 2007–2008". Retrieved 2010-01-24.[permanent dead link]; "Pacific Division Officers & Committees 2008–2009". Retrieved 2010-01-24.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "DLMPST Council 2020-2023". Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  8. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-06-15.
  9. ^ CV Nancy Cartwright; "Eighty-four leading social scientists conferred as Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences". Academy of Social Sciences. 19 October 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  10. ^ Cartwright, Nancy (23 April 2011). "A philosopher's view of the long road from RCTs to effectiveness". The Lancet. 377 (9775): 1400–1401. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60563-1. PMID 21520508. S2CID 5722808.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Menachem Magidor
President of the Division for Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology of the International Union for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (DLMPST/IUHPST)
Succeeded by