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Profile: Michael Strevens (New York University)
  1. Michael Strevens, Explanatory Autonomy and Explanatory Irreducibility.
    A powerful argument for anti-reductionism turns on the premise that the biological, behavioral, and social sciences are, in the way that they explain their characteristic subject matters, in some sense autonomous from physics. The argument is formulated and strengthened in this paper, and then undermined by showing that a reductionist account of explanation is not only consistent with, but provides a compelling account of, explanatory autonomy. Two kinds of explanatory abstraction, objective and contextual, play important roles in the story.
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  2. Michael Strevens, Notes on Bayesian Confirmation Theory.
    Bayesian confirmation theory—abbreviated to in these notes—is the predominant approach to confirmation in late twentieth century philosophy of science. It has many critics, but no rival theory can claim anything like the same following. The popularity of the Bayesian approach is due to its flexibility, its apparently effortless handling of various technical problems, the existence of various a priori arguments for its validity, and its injection of subjective and contextual elements into the process of confirmation in just the places where (...)
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  3. Michael Strevens, Stochastic Independence and Causal Connection.
    Assumptions of stochastic independence are crucial to statistical models in science. But under what circumstances is it reasonable to suppose that two events are independent? When they are not causally or logically connected, so the usual story goes. But scientific models frequently treat causally dependent events as stochastically independent, raising the question whether there are kinds of causal connection that do not undermine stochastic independence. This paper provides one piece of an answer to this question, treating the simple case of (...)
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  4. Michael Strevens, The Other Kind of Confirmation.
    It is argued that the relation of instance confirmation has a role to play in scientific methodology that complements, rather than competing with, a modern account of inductive support such as Bayesian confirmation theory. When an instance confirms a hypothesis, it provides inductive support, but it also provides two things that other inductive supporters normally do not: first, a connection to “empirical data” that makes science epistemically special, and second, inductive support not only for the hypothesis as a whole, but (...)
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  5. Michael Strevens, What is Empirical Testing?
    Science is epistemically special, or so I will assume: it is better able to produce knowledge about the workings of the world than other knowledge-directed pursuits. Further, its superior epistemic powers are due to its being in some sense especially empirical: in particular, science puts great weight on a form of inductive reasoning that I call empirical con rmation. My aim in this paper is to investigate the nature of science’s “empiricism”, and to provide a preliminary explanation of the connection (...)
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  6. Michael Strevens, Counterfactual Support: Why Care?
    It seems very important to us whether or not a generalization offers counter-factual support—but why? Surely what happens in other possible worlds can neither help nor hurt us? This paper explores the question whether counter-factual support does, nevertheless, have some practical value. (The question of theoretical value will be addressed but then put aside.) The following thesis is proposed: the counterfactual-supporting generalizations are those for which there exists a compact and under normal circumstances knowable basis determining the fine-grained pattern of (...)
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  7. Michael Strevens (2013). Causality Reunified. Erkenntnis 78 (2):299-320.
    Hall has recently argued that there are two concepts of causality, picking out two different kinds of causal relation. McGrath, and Hitchcock and Knobe, have recently argued that the facts about causality depend on what counts as a “default” or “normal” state, or even on the moral facts. In the light of these claims you might be tempted to agree with Skyrms that causal relations constitute, metaphysically speaking, an “amiable jumble”, or with Cartwright that ‘causation’, though a single word, encompasses (...)
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  8. Michael Strevens (2013). Herding and the Quest for Credit. Journal of Economic Methodology 20 (1):19 - 34.
    (2013). Herding and the quest for credit. Journal of Economic Methodology: Vol. 20, Methodology, Systemic Risk, and the Economics Profession, pp. 19-34. doi: 10.1080/1350178X.2013.774849.
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  9. Michael Strevens (2013). No Understanding Without Explanation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):510-515.
    Scientific understanding, this paper argues, can be analyzed entirely in terms of a mental act of “grasping” and a notion of explanation. To understand why a phenomenon occurs is to grasp a correct explanation of the phenomenon. To understand a scientific theory is to be able to construct, or at least to grasp, a range of potential explanations in which that theory accounts for other phenomena. There is no route to scientific understanding, then, that does not go by way of (...)
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  10. Michael Strevens (2012). Ceteris Paribus Hedges: Causal Voodoo That Works. Journal of Philosophy 109 (11):652-675.
    What do the words "ceteris paribus" add to a causal hypothesis, that is, to a generalization that is intended to articulate the consequences of a causal mechanism? One answer, which looks almost too good to be true, is that a ceteris paribus hedge restricts the scope of the hypothesis to those cases where nothing undermines, interferes with, or undoes the effect of the mechanism in question, even if the hypothesis's own formulator is otherwise unable to specify fully what might constitute (...)
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  11. Michael Strevens (2012). Précis of Depth. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84 (2):447-460.
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  12. Michael Strevens (2012). Replies to Weatherson, Hall, and Lange. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84 (2):492-505.
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  13. Michael Strevens (2012). Special Sciences. Noûs 46 (4).
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  14. Michael Strevens (2012). The Explanatory Role of Irreducible Properties. Noûs 46 (4):754-780.
    I aim to reconcile two apparently conflicting theses: (a) Everything that can be explained, can be explained in purely physical terms, that is, using the machinery of fundamental physics, and (b) some properties that play an explanatory role in the higher level sciences are irreducible in the strong sense that they are physically undefinable: their nature cannot be described using the vocabulary of physics. I investigate the contribution that physically undefinable properties typically make to explanations in the high-level sciences, and (...)
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  15. Michael Strevens (2012). Theoretical Terms Without Analytic Truths. Philosophical Studies 160 (1):167-190.
    When new theoretical terms are introduced into scientific discourse, prevailing accounts imply, analytic or semantic truths come along with them, by way of either definitions or reference-fixing descriptions. But there appear to be few or no analytic truths in scientific theory, which suggests that the prevailing accounts are mistaken. This paper looks to research on the psychology of natural kind concepts to suggest a new account of the introduction of theoretical terms that avoids both definition and reference-fixing description. At the (...)
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  16. Michael Strevens (2011). Economic Approaches to Understanding Scientific Norms. Episteme 8 (2):184-200.
    A theme of much work taking an ““economic approach”” to the study of science is the interaction between the norms of individual scientists and those of society at large. Though drawing from the same suite of formal methods, proponents of the economic approach offer what are in substantive terms profoundly different explanations of various aspects of the structure of science. The differences are illustrated by comparing Strevens's explanation of the scientific reward system (the ““priority rule””) with Max Albert's explanation of (...)
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  17. Michael Strevens (2011). Probability Out Of Determinism. In Claus Beisbart & Stephan Hartmann (eds.), Probabilities in Physics. Oxford University Press. 339--364.
    This paper offers a metaphysics of physical probability in (or if you prefer, truth conditions for probabilistic claims about) deterministic systems based on an approach to the explanation of probabilistic patterns in deterministic systems called the method of arbitrary functions. Much of the appeal of the method is its promise to provide an account of physical probability on which probability assignments have the ability to support counterfactuals about frequencies. It is argued that the eponymous arbitrary functions are of little philosophical (...)
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  18. Michael Strevens (2010). Reconsidering Authority. In Tamar Szabo Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology, Vol 3. Oxford University Press. 294-330.
    How to regard the weight we give to a proposition on the grounds of its being endorsed by an authority? I examine this question as it is raised within the epistemology of science, and I argue that “authority-based weight” should receive special handling, for the following reason. Our assessments of other scientists’ competence or authority are nearly always provisional, in the sense that to save time and money, they are not made nearly as carefully as they could be---indeed, they are (...)
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  19. Michael Strevens (2009). C. S. Bertuglia and F. Vaio Nonlinearity, Chaos, and Complexity. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (2):447-451.
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  20. Michael Strevens (2009). Objective Evidence and Absence: Comment on Sober. Philosophical Studies 143 (1):91 - 100.
    Elliott Sober argues that the statistical slogan “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” cannot be taken literally: it must be interpreted charitably as claiming that the absence of evidence is (typically) not very much evidence of absence. I offer an alternative interpretation, on which the slogan claims that absence of evidence is (typically) not objective evidence of absence. I sketch a definition of objective evidence, founded in the notion of an epistemically objective likelihood, and I show that in (...)
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  21. Michael Strevens (2009). Remarks on Harman and Kulkarni's "Reliable Reasoning". Abstracta 5 (3):27-41.
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  22. Michael Strevens (2008). Comments on Woodward, Making Things Happen. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (1):171-192.
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  23. Michael Strevens (2008). Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation. Harvard University Press.
    Approaches to explanation -- Causal and explanatory relevance -- The kairetic account of /D making -- The kairetic account of explanation -- Extending the kairetic account -- Event explanation and causal claims -- Regularity explanation -- Abstraction in regularity explanation -- Approaches to probabilistic explanation -- Kairetic explanation of frequencies -- Kairetic explanation of single outcomes -- Looking outward -- Looking inward.
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  24. Michael Strevens (2008). Physically Contingent Laws and Counterfactual Support. Philosophers' Imprint 8 (8):1-20.
    The generalizations found in biology, psychology, sociology, and other high-level sciences are typically physically contingent. You might conclude that they play only a limited role in scientific investigation, on the grounds that physically contingent generalizations offer no or only feeble counterfactual support. But the link between contingency and counterfactual support is more complex than is commonly supposed. A certain class of physically contingent generalizations, comprising many, perhaps the vast majority, of those in the high-level sciences, provides strong counterfactual support of (...)
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  25. Michael Strevens (2007). Mackie Remixed. In J. K. Campbell, M. O'Rourke & H. S. Silverstein (eds.), Causation and Explanation. MIT Press. 4--93.
    Cases of overdetermination or preemption continue to play an important role in the debate about the proper interpretation of causal claims of the form "C was a cause of E". I argue that the best treatment of preemption cases is given by Mackie's venerable INUS account of causal claims. The Mackie account suffers, however, from problems of its own. Inspired by its ability to handle preemption, I propose a dramatic revision to the Mackie account – one that Mackie himself would (...)
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  26. Michael Strevens (2007). Mackie Revisited. In J. K. Campbell, M. O'Rourke & H. S. Silverstein (eds.), Causation and Explanation. Mit Press. 1--32.
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  27. Michael Strevens (2007). Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation by James Woodward. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
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  28. Michael Strevens (2007). Review of Woodward, Making Things Happen. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233–249.
    The concept of causation plays a central role in many philosophical theories, and yet no account of causation has gained widespread acceptance among those who have investigated its foundations. Theories based on laws, counterfactuals, physical processes, and probabilistic dependence and independence relations (the list is by no means exhaustive) have all received detailed treatment in recent years---{}and, while no account has been entirely successful, it is generally agreed that the concept has been greatly clari{}ed by the attempts. In this magni{}cent (...)
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  29. Michael Strevens (2007). Why Represent Causal Relations? In Alison Gopnik & Laura Schulz (eds.), Causal Learning: Psychology, Philosophy, Computation. Oxford University Press. 245--260.
    Why do we represent the world around us using causal generalizations, rather than, say, purely statistical generalizations? Do causal representations contain useful additional information, or are they merely more efficient for inferential purposes? This paper considers the second kind of answer: it investigates some ways in which causal cognition might aid us not because of its expressive power, but because of its organizational power. Three styles of explanation are considered. The first, building on the work of Reichenbach in "The Direction (...)
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  30. Michael Strevens (2006). Chaos. In D. M. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, second edition.
    A physical system has a chaotic dynamics, according to the dictionary, if its behavior depends sensitively on its initial conditions, that is, if systems of the same type starting out with very similar sets of initial conditions can end up in states that are, in some relevant sense, very different. But when science calls a system chaotic, it normally implies two additional claims: that the dynamics of the system is relatively simple, in the sense that it can be expressed in (...)
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  31. Michael Strevens (2006). Probability and Chance. In D. M. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, second edition. Macmillan.
    The weather report says that the chance of a hurricane arriving later today is 90%. Forewarned is forearmed: expecting a hurricane, before leaving home you pack your hurricane lantern.
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  32. Michael Strevens (2006). Scientific Explanation. In D. M. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, second edition.
    The three cardinal aims of science are prediction, control, and explanation; but the greatest of these is explanation. Also the most inscrutable: prediction aims at truth, and control at happiness, and insofar as we have some independent grasp of these notions, we can evaluate science’s strategies of prediction and control from the outside. Explanation, by contrast, aims at scientific understanding, a good intrinsic to science and therefore something that it seems we can only look to science itself to explicate.
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  33. Michael Strevens (2006). The Bayesian Approach to the Philosophy of Science. In D. M. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, second edition. Macmillan Reference. 495--502.
    The posthumous publication, in 1763, of Thomas Bayes’ “Essay Towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances” inaugurated a revolution in the understanding of the confirmation of scientific hypotheses—two hundred years later. Such a long period of neglect, followed by such a sweeping revival, ensured that it was the inhabitants of the latter half of the twentieth century above all who determined what it was to take a “Bayesian approach” to scientific reasoning.
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  34. Michael Strevens (2006). The Role of the Matthew Effect in Science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 37 (2):159-170.
    Robert Merton observed that better-known scientists tend to get more credit than less well-known scientists for the same achievements; he called this the Matthew effect. Scientists themselves, even those eminent researchers who enjoy its benefits, regard the effect as a pathology: it results, they believe, in a misallocation of credit. If so, why do scientists continue to bestow credit in the manner described by the effect? This paper advocates an explanation of the effect on which it turns out to allocate (...)
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  35. Michael Strevens (2005). How Are the Sciences of Complex Systems Possible? Philosophy of Science 72 (4):531-556.
    To understand the behavior of a complex system, you must understand the interactions among its parts. Doing so is difficult for non-decomposable systems, in which the interactions strongly influence the short-term behavior of the parts. Science's principal tool for dealing with non-decomposable systems is a variety of probabilistic analysis that I call EPA. I show that EPA's power derives from an assumption that appears to be false of non-decomposable complex systems, in virtue of their very non-decomposability. Yet EPA is extremely (...)
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  36. Michael Strevens (2005). The Bayesian Treatment of Auxiliary Hypotheses: Reply to Fitelson and Waterman. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (4):913-918.
    Bayesian treatment of auxiliary hypotheses rests on a misinterpretation of Strevens's central claim about the negligibility of certain small probabilities. The present paper clarifies and proves a very general version of the claim. The project Clarifications The negligibility argument Generalization and proof.
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  37. Michael Strevens, John Earman, Laura Ruetsche, Max Albert, Jonah N. Schupbach & Sean Allen‐Hermanson (2005). 10. Kent Staley: The Evidence for the Top Quark: Objectivity and Bias in Collaborative Experimentation, Kent Staley: The Evidence for the Top Quark: Objectivity and Bias in Collaborative Experimentation,(Pp. 659-661). [REVIEW] Philosophy of Science 72 (4).
     
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  38. Michael Strevens (2004). Bayesian Confirmation Theory: Inductive Logic, or Mere Inductive Framework? Synthese 141 (3):365 - 379.
    Does the Bayesian theory of confirmation put real constraints on our inductive behavior? Or is it just a framework for systematizing whatever kind of inductive behavior we prefer? Colin Howson (Hume's Problem) has recently championed the second view. I argue that he is wrong, in that the Bayesian apparatus as it is usually deployed does constrain our judgments of inductive import, but also that he is right, in that the source of Bayesianism's inductive prescriptions is not the Bayesian machinery itself, (...)
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  39. Michael Strevens (2004). The Causal and Unification Approaches to Explanation Unified—Causally. Noûs 38 (1):154–176.
    The two major modern accounts of explanation are the causal and unification accounts. My aim in this paper is to provide a kind of unification of the causal and the unification accounts, by using the central technical apparatus of the unification account to solve a central problem faced by the causal account, namely, the problem of determining which parts of a causal network are explanatorily relevant to the occurrence of an explanandum. The end product of my investigation is a causal (...)
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  40. MIchael Strevens (2003). Against Lewis's New Theory of Causation: A Story with Three Morals. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 84 (4):398–412.
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  41. Michael Strevens (2003). Bigger Than Chaos: Understanding Complexity Through Probability. Harvard University Press.
    In this book, Michael Strevens aims to explain how simplicity can coexist with, indeed be caused by, the tangled interconnections between a complex system's ...
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  42. Michael Strevens, The Myth of the Final Criterion.
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  43. Michael Strevens (2003). The Role of the Priority Rule in Science. Journal of Philosophy 100 (2):55-79.
    Science's priority rule rewards those who are first to make a discovery, at the expense of all other scientists working towards the same goal, no matter how close they may be to making the same discovery. I propose an explanation of the priority rule that, better than previous explanations, accounts for the distinctive features of the rule. My explanation treats the priority system, and more generally, any scheme of rewards for scientific endeavor, as a device for achieving an allocation of (...)
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  44. Michael Strevens (2001). Only Causation Matters: Reply to Ahn Et Al. Cognition 82 (1):71-76.
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  45. Michael Strevens (2001). The Bayesian Treatment of Auxiliary Hypotheses. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (3):515-537.
    This paper examines the standard Bayesian solution to the Quine–Duhem problem, the problem of distributing blame between a theory and its auxiliary hypotheses in the aftermath of a failed prediction. The standard solution, I argue, begs the question against those who claim that the problem has no solution. I then provide an alternative Bayesian solution that is not question-begging and that turns out to have some interesting and desirable properties not possessed by the standard solution. This solution opens the way (...)
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  46. Michael Strevens (2000). Do Large Probabilities Explain Better? Philosophy of Science 67 (3):366-390.
    It is widely held that the size of a probability makes no difference to the quality of a probabilistic explanation. I argue that explanatory practice in statistical physics belies this claim. The claim has gained currency only because of an impoverished conception of probabilistic processes and an unwarranted assumption that all probabilistic explanations have a single form.
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  47. Michael Strevens (2000). The Essentialist Aspect of Naive Theories. Cognition 74 (149):175.
    Recent work on children’s inferences concerning biological and chemical categories has suggested that children (and perhaps adults) are essentialists— a view known as psychological essentialism. I distinguish three varieties of psychological essentialism and investigate the ways in which essentialism explains the inferences for which it is supposed to account. Essentialism succeeds in explaining the inferences, I argue, because it attributes to the child belief in causal laws connecting category membership and the possession of certain characteristic appearances and behavior. This suggests (...)
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  48. Michael Strevens (1999). Objective Probability as a Guide to the World. Philosophical Studies 95 (3):243-275.
    According to principles of probability coordination, such as Miller's Principle or Lewis's Principal Principle, you ought to set your subjective probability for an event equal to what you take to be the objective probability of the event. For example, you should expect events with a very high probability to occur and those with a very low probability not to occur. This paper examines the grounds of such principles. It is argued that any attempt to justify a principle of probability coordination (...)
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  49. Michael Strevens (1998). Inferring Probabilities From Symmetries. Noûs 32 (2):231-246.
    This paper justifies the inference of probabilities from symmetries. I supply some examples of important and correct inferences of this variety. Two explanations of such inferences -- an explanation based on the Principle of Indifference and a proposal due to Poincaré and Reichenbach -- are considered and rejected. I conclude with my own account, in which the inferences in question are shown to be warranted a posteriori, provided that they are based on symmetries in the mechanisms of chance setups.
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  50. Michael Strevens (1996). Quantum Mechanics and Frequentism: A Reply to Ismael. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (4):575-577.
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