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Durham University

The Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Nancy Cartwright

Cartwright, N. & Marcellesi, A. (2016). Deliberating Policy: Where morals and methods mix. In The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher. Couch, M. & Pfeifer, J. New York: Oxford University Press. 229-252.

Author(s) from Durham


Nancy Cartwright and Alexandre Marcellesi argue that policy decisions ought to be based on (1) whether the policy will be effective and (2) whether it is morally, politically, socially, and culturally acceptable. Greater weight, though, is often given to (1) because it is believed that we have better methods for answering (1) than (2). However, we are overconfident in our judgments about (1) because we “bank on” certainty, believe that “objective” methods—such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs)—are the best path to such certainty, and think that causality is linear and “God-given.” Causal relations are far more complex, while the objective relations we discover through RCTs are local, surface-level, and expressible only in language specific to the RCTs. Our mistaken ideas about objectivity, certainty, and causality lead us to overgeneralize from a few RCTs without adequately addressing the moral ramifications of doing so.


Also Durham University: CHESS Working Paper No. 2014-02.