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Prize winning dissertation

12 December 2013

Mr Thomas Frankel, a student in STS's integrated BSc programme for UCL Medical School, has won the HAB Simons Prize 2013 for an outstanding dissertation. His dissertation focused on philosophy of science,"Prediction, Explanation, and 'Self-Caused Explanations'". Abstract below. As the award letter explained, "Only the best iBSc projects are nominated for this prize..." Thomas shares it with a student on another integrated programme.

STS tutors receive the news with delight, but no surprise. Dr Chiara Ambrosio commented, "It was an exceptional piece of work."

This is the second award of the HAB Simons Prize to an STS student. Adam Holland (2009-10) won it in 2010 for his dissertation on “The Benefits of Pluralism: A Perspectival Articulation”.

Prediction, Explanation, and “Self-Caused Explanations”

Thomas Frankel


This essay is divided into three sections. Throughout, I discuss a number of issues relating to predictions and explanations. In section 1, I introduce basic ideas that I later build on. In section 2, I make my main argument. The further implications of my work are considered in section 3. The major themes that are addressed in each section are given below.

1. I begin with an outline of the study of scientific explanation. I focus on Hempel’s thesis of structural identity, which demands symmetry between explanation and prediction. Several counterexamples to this thesis are then considered, along with a limited defence, which draws on the work of Adolf Gru nbaum. A number of alternative approaches to scientific explanation are also examined.

2. A novel distinction between prediction and explanation is proposed. This is achieved through the definitions of four related conditions, which apply only to predictions. These are the temporal, empirical, epistemic, and causal conditions. The concept of “self-caused explanations” is introduced, demonstrating an novel asymmetry between prediction and explanation.

3. Some of the implications of my distinction are considered. First, a new perspective on the problem of explaining unlikely events is offered. Finally, it is argued that predictions are better able to confirm scientific theories than explanations. It is proposed that scientific explanations function through implied predictions.

Page last modified on 12 dec 13 12:14 by Joe Cain

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