Cartwright on explanation and idealization

Erkenntnis 57 (3):441 - 450 (2002)
Nancy Cartwright (1983, 1999) argues that (1) the fundamental laws of physics are true when and only when appropriate ceteris paribus modifiers are attached and that (2) ceteris paribus modifiers describe conditions that are almost never satisfied. She concludes that when the fundamental laws of physics are true, they don't apply in the real world, but only in highly idealized counterfactual situations. In this paper, we argue that (1) and (2) together with an assumption about contraposition entail the opposite conclusion — that the fundamental laws of physics do apply in the real world. Cartwright extracts from her thesis about the inapplicability of fundamental laws the conclusion that they cannot figure in covering-law explanations. We construct a different argument for a related conclusion — that forward-directed idealized dynamical laws cannot provide covering-law explanations that are causal. This argument is neutral on whether the assumption about contraposition is true. We then discuss Cartwright's simulacrum account of explanation, which seeks to describe how idealized laws can be explanatory.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
 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: 9,357
External links
  • Through your library Configure
    References found in this work BETA

    No references found.

    Citations of this work BETA
    Frank Hindriks (2013). Explanation, Understanding, and Unrealistic Models. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):523-531.
    Similar books and articles

    Monthly downloads

    Added to index


    Total downloads

    101 ( #8,753 of 1,088,753 )

    Recent downloads (6 months)

    19 ( #5,719 of 1,088,753 )

    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.