David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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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.
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Alisa Bokulich (2011). How Scientific Models Can Explain. Synthese 180 (1):33 - 45.
Robert Kowalenko (2009). How (Not) to Think About Idealisation and Ceteris Paribus -Laws. Synthese 167 (1):183 - 201.
Collin Rice (2012). Optimality Explanations: A Plea for an Alternative Approach. Biology and Philosophy 27 (5):685-703.
Andrew Wayne (2011). Expanding the Scope of Explanatory Idealization. Philosophy of Science 78 (5):830-841.
Frank Hindriks (2013). Explanation, Understanding, and Unrealistic Models. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):523-531.
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