Mathematical explanation in science

Does mathematics ever play an explanatory role in science? If so then this opens the way for scientific realists to argue for the existence of mathematical entities using inference to the best explanation. Elsewhere I have argued, using a case study involving the prime-numbered life cycles of periodical cicadas, that there are examples of indispensable mathematical explanations of purely physical phenomena. In this paper I respond to objections to this claim that have been made by various philosophers, and I discuss potential future directions of research for each side in the debate over the existence of abstract mathematical objects. Introduction: Mathematical Explanation Indispensability and Explanation Is the Mathematics Indispensable to the Explanation? 3.1 Object-level arbitrariness 3.2 Concept-level arbitrariness 3.3 Theory-level arbitrariness Is the Explanandum ‘Purely Physical’? Is the Mathematics Explanatory in Its Own Right? Does Inference to the Best Explanation Apply to Mathematics? 6.1 Leng's first argument 6.2 Leng's second argument 6.3 Leng's third argument Conclusions CiteULike Connotea What's this?
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/bjps/axp025
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,667
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

View all 9 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
M. Lange (2013). What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (3):485-511.

View all 36 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

241 ( #5,758 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

15 ( #48,707 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.