Explanation

Edited by Brad Weslake (New York University, Shanghai)
Assistant editor: Zili Dong (University of Western Ontario)
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  1. Composing Spacetime.Sam Baron & Baptiste Le Bihan - forthcoming - Journal of Philosophy.
    According to a number of approaches in theoretical physics spacetime does not exist fundamentally. Rather, spacetime exists by depending on another, more fundamental, non-spatiotemporal structure. A prevalent opinion in the literature is that this dependence should not be analysed in terms of composition. We should not say, that is, that spacetime depends on an ontology of non-spatiotemporal entities in virtue of having them as parts. But is that really right? On the contrary, we argue that a mereological approach to dependent (...)
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  2. An Externalist Teleology.Gunnar Babcock & Daniel W. McShea - forthcoming - Synthese.
    Teleology has a complicated history in the biological sciences. Some have argued that Darwin’s theory has allowed biology to purge itself of teleological explanations. Others have been content to retain teleology and to treat it as metaphorical, or have sought to replace it with less problematic notions like teleonomy. And still others have tried to naturalize it in a way that distances it from the vitalism of the nineteenth century, focusing on the role that function plays in teleological explanation. No (...)
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  3. The Counteridentical Account of Explanatory Identities.Isaac Wilhelm - 2021 - Journal of Philosophy 118 (2):57-78.
    Many explanations rely on identity facts. In this paper, I propose an account of how identity facts explain: roughly, the fact that A is identical to B explains another fact whenever that other fact depends, counterfactually, on A being identical to B. As I show, this account has many virtues. It avoids several problems facing accounts of explanatory identities, and when precisified using structural equations, it can be used to defend interventionist accounts of causation against an objection.
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Theories of Explanation
  1. Modality and constitution in distinctively mathematical explanations.Mark Povich - 2020 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 10 (3):1-10.
    Lange argues that some natural phenomena can be explained by appeal to mathematical, rather than natural, facts. In these “distinctively mathematical” explanations, the core explanatory facts are either modally stronger than facts about ordinary causal law or understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement at issue. Craver and Povich argue that Lange’s account of DME fails to exclude certain “reversals”. Lange has replied that his account can avoid these directionality charges. Specifically, Lange argues that in legitimate DMEs, (...)
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  2. Does IBE Require a ‘Model’ of Explanation?Frank Cabrera - 2020 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (2):727-750.
    In this article, I consider an important challenge to the popular theory of scientific inference commonly known as ‘inference to the best explanation’, one that has received scant attention.1 1 The problem is that there exists a wide array of rival models of explanation, thus leaving IBE objectionably indeterminate. First, I briefly introduce IBE. Then, I motivate the problem and offer three potential solutions, the most plausible of which is to adopt a kind of pluralism about the rival models of (...)
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  3. Unifying the Essential Concepts of Biological Networks: Biological Insights and Philosophical Foundations.Daniel Kostic, Claus Hilgetag & Marc Tittgemeyer - forthcoming - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
    Over the last decades, network-based approaches have become highly popular in diverse fields of biology, including neuroscience, ecology, molecular biology and genetics. While these approaches continue to grow very rapidly, some of their conceptual and methodological aspects still require a programmatic foundation. This challenge particularly concerns the question of whether a generalized account of explanatory, organisational and descriptive levels of networks can be applied universally across biological sciences. To this end, this highly interdisciplinary theme issue focuses on the definition, motivation (...)
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  4. Objašnjenje, evidencija, teorija (Explanation, Evidence, Theory).Daniel Kostic & Dusko Prelevic - 2014 - Belgrade, Serbia: Treći program.
  5. Reasons Why in Normative Explanation.Pekka Väyrynen - 2019 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (6):607-623.
    Normative explanations, which specify why things have the normative features they do, are ubiquitous in normative theory and ordinary thought. But there is much less work on normative explanation than on scientific or metaphysical explanation. Skow (2016) argues that a complete answer to the question why some fact Q occurs consists in all of the reasons why Q occurs. This paper explores this theory as a case study of a general theory that promises to offer us a grip on normative (...)
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  6. A Logic for Best Explanations.Jared Millson & Christian Straßer - 2019 - Journal of Applied Non-Classical Logics 29 (2):184-231.
    Efforts to formalize qualitative accounts of inference to the best explanation (IBE) confront two obstacles: the imprecise nature of such accounts and the unusual logical properties that explanations exhibit, such as contradiction-intolerance and irreflexivity. This paper aims to surmount these challenges by utilising a new, more precise theory that treats explanations as expressions that codify defeasible inferences. To formalise this account, we provide a sequent calculus in which IBE serves as an elimination rule for a connective that exhibits many of (...)
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  7. Brute Facts.Elly Vintiadis & Constantinos Mekios (eds.) - 2018 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    Brute facts are facts that don't have explanations. They are instrumental in our attempts to give accounts of other facts or phenomena, and so they play a key role in many philosophers' views about the structure of the world. This volume explores neglected questions about the nature of brute facts and their explanatory role.
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  8. Levels of Reasons Why and Answers to Why Questions.Insa Lawler - 2019 - Philosophy of Science 86 (1):168-177.
    According to Skow (2016, 2017), correct answers to why-questions only cite causes or grounds, but not non-accidental regularities. Accounts that cite non-accidental regularities typically confuse second-level reasons with first-level reasons. Only causes and grounds are first-level reasons why. Non-accidental regularities are second-level reasons why. I first show that Skow's arguments for the accusation of confusion depend on the independent thesis that only citations of first-level reasons why are (parts of) answers to why-questions. Then, I argue that this thesis is false. (...)
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  9. Some Disputed Aspects of Inertia, with Particular Reference to the Equivalence Principle.Ryan Samaroo - 2013 - Dissertation, The University of Western Ontario
    This thesis is a contribution to the foundations of space-time theories. It examines the proper understanding of the Newtonian and 1905 inertial frame concepts and the critical analysis of these concepts that was motivated by the equivalence principle. This is the hypothesis that it is impossible to distinguish locally between a homogeneous gravitational field and a uniformly accelerated frame. The three essays that comprise this thesis address, in one way or another, the criteria through which the inertial frame concepts are (...)
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  10. Eppur Si Muove: Doing History and Philosophy of Science with Peter Machamer, A Collection of Essays in Honor of Peter Machamer.Marcus P. Adams, Zvi Biener, Uljana Feest & Jacqueline Anne Sullivan (eds.) - 2017 - Dordrecht: Springer.
    This volume is a collection of original essays focusing on a wide range of topics in the History and Philosophy of Science. It is a festschrift for Peter Machamer, which includes contributions from scholars who, at one time or another, were his students. The essays bring together analyses of issues and debates spanning from early modern science and philosophy through the 21st century. Machamer’s influence is reflected in the volume’s broad range of topics. These include: underdetermination, scientific practice, scientific models, (...)
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  11. Knowing the Structure of Nature. Essays on Realism and Explanation. [REVIEW]Andrés Rivadulla - 2009 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 24 (3):361-365.
  12. Re-Reconciling the Epistemic and Ontic Views of Explanation.Benjamin Sheredos - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (5):919-949.
    Recent attempts to reconcile the ontic and epistemic approaches to explanation propose that our best explanations simply fulfill epistemic and ontic norms simultaneously. I aim to upset this armistice. Epistemic norms of attaining general and systematic explanations are, I argue, autonomous of ontic norms: they cannot be fulfilled simultaneously or in simple conjunction with ontic norms, and plausibly have priority over them. One result is that central arguments put forth by ontic theorists against epistemic theorists are revealed as not only (...)
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  13. III.—On Causal Explanation.T. Percy Nunn - 1907 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 7 (1):50-80.
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  14. The Epidemiology of Science.Peter Kosso - 2001 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 32 (3):575-581.
  15. How General Do Theories of Explanation Need To Be?Bernhard Nickel - 2010 - Noûs 44 (2):305-328.
    Theories of explanation seek to tell us what distinctively explanatory information is. The most ambitious ones, such as the DN-account, seek to tell us what an explanation is, tout court. Less ambitious ones, such as causal theories, restrict themselves to a particular domain of inquiry. The least ambitious theories constitute outright skepticism, holding that there is no reasonably unified phenomenon to give an account of. On these views, it is impossible to give any theories of explanation at all. I argue (...)
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  16. 3. Instance Vs. Classic Ontology: Intensions and Unification.D. W. Mertz - 2016 - In On the Elements of Ontology: Attribute Instances and Structure. De Gruyter. pp. 126-166.
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  17. Explanatory Unification and Conceptualization.Stefan Petkov - 2015 - Synthese 192 (11):3695-3717.
    There are several important criticisms against the unificationist model of scientific explanation: Unification is a broad and heterogeneous notion and it is hard to see how a model of explanation based exclusively on unification can make a distinction between genuine explanatory unification from cases of ordering or classification. Unification alone cannot solve the asymmetry and irrelevance problems. Unification and explanation pull in different directions and should be decoupled, because for good scientific explanation extra ad explanandum information is often required. I (...)
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  18. Reassessing Woodward’s Account of Explanation: Regularities, Counterfactuals, and Noncausal Explanations.Juha Saatsi & Mark Pexton - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (5):613-624.
    We reassess Woodward’s counterfactual account of explanation in relation to regularity explananda. Woodward presents an account of causal explanation. We argue, by using an explanation of Kleiber’s law to illustrate, that the account can also cover some noncausal explanations. This leads to a tension between the two key aspects of Woodward’s account: the counterfactual aspect and the causal aspect. We explore this tension and make a case for jettisoning the causal aspect as constitutive of explanatory power in connection with regularity (...)
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  19. Wondrous Truths: The Improbable Triumph of Modern Science.J. D. Trout - 2016 - Oxford University Press USA.
    A fresh, daring, and genuine alternative to the traditional story of scientific progress Explaining the world around us, and the life within it, is one of the most uniquely human drives, and the most celebrated activity of science. Good explanations are what provide accurate causal accounts of the things we wonder at, but explanation's earthly origins haven't grounded it: we have used it to account for the grandest and most wondrous mysteries in the natural world. Explanations give us a sense (...)
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  20. What is Philosophy? A Causal Explanation.Christopher Dicarlo - unknown - Eidos: The Canadian Graduate Journal of Philosophy 6.
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  21. The Relationship of Scientific Explanation to Models of Rationality.Eugenie Gatens-Robinson - 1983 - Dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
    This work contrasts the formalist approach to defining explanation in science, exemplified in the Deductive-Nomenological Model of Carl G. Hempel, with the contextualist approach of Thomas Kuhn. It is argued that both of these attempts to define the explanatory processes of science are inadequate. A connection is made between the view of rationality upon which each view is based and the way that it defines explanation. It is argued that a process of thought, which scientific explanation represents, is considered rational (...)
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  22. Idealization and Structural Explanation in Physics.Martin King - 2014
  23. Comments on Plato's Causal Explanation.D. Z. Andriopoulos - 2008 - Philosophical Inquiry 30 (3-4):115-143.
  24. Explanation in Metaphysics and Bolzano’s Theory of Ground and Consequence.Arianna Betti - 2010 - Logique Et Analyse 211:281-316.
  25. How to Construct a Deductive-Nomological Explanation?Erik Weber - 1996 - Dialectica 50 (3):183-203.
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  26. The Nature of Scientific Explanation.Antoine Lavoisier - 2009 - In Timothy J. McGrew, Marc Alspector-Kelly & Fritz Allhoff (eds.), The Philosophy of Science: An Historical Anthology. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 245.
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  27. Causal Explanation Provides Knowledge Why.Olav Gjelsvik - 2007 - In Johannes Persson & Petri Ylikoski (eds.), Rethinking Explanation. Springer. pp. 69--92.
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  28. Theoretical Explanation and Unification.Anne L. Hiskes - 1994 - In Dag Prawitz & Dag Westerståhl (eds.), Logic and Philosophy of Science in Uppsala. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 147--157.
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  29. Un caso sorprendente de mutación conceptual: el avatar contemporáneo de la comprensión y la explicación.Josep María Bech - 2011 - In David Pérez Chico, Rodríguez Suárez & Luisa Paz (eds.), Explicar y Comprender. Plaza y Valdés Editores.
    The age-old controversy pitting explanation against understanding has amazingly mutated in our time because nowadays each of these procedures attempts to replicate and even occasionally mimetizes the features traditionally ascribed to the competing practice.
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  30. Causal Individualism and the Unification of Anthropology.J. Tim O'Meara - 1999 - In E. L. Cerroni-Long (ed.), Anthropological Theory in North America. Bergin & Garvey. pp. 105--42.
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  31. Bennette, Rebecca Ayako., Fighting for the Soul of Germany: The Catholic Struggle for Inclusion After Unification.Johannes Thomas - 2013 - Review of Metaphysics 66 (4):825-827.
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  32. Seventeenth-Century Mechanism: An Alternative Framework for Reductionism.Kari L. Theurer - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (5):907-918.
    The current antireductionist consensus rests in part on the indefensibility of the deductive-nomological model of explanation, on which classical reductionism depends. I argue that the DN model is inessential to the reductionist program and that mechanism provides a better framework for thinking about reductionism. This runs counter to the contemporary mechanists’ claim that mechanism is an alternative to reductionism. I demonstrate that mechanists are committed to reductionism, as evidenced by the historical roots of the contemporary mechanist program. This view shares (...)
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  33. Scientific Explanation.Erik Weber, Jeroen Van Bouwel & Leen De Vreese - 2013 - Springer.
    When scientist investigate why things happen, they aim at giving an explanation. But what does a scientific explanation look like? In the first chapter (Theories of Scientific Explanation) of this book, the milestones in the debate on how to characterize scientific explanations are exposed. The second chapter (How to Study Scientific Explanation?) scrutinizes the working-method of three important philosophers of explanation, Carl Hempel, Philip Kitcher and Wesley Salmon and shows what went wrong. Next, it is the responsibility of current philosophers (...)
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  34. Train to Pyongyang: Imagination, Utopia, and Korean Unification.Samuel Gerald Collins - 2013 - Utopian Studies 24 (1):119-143.
    This article originated in a “cultural futures” course I taught in Seoul in 2007.1 As part of their semester project, students interviewed friends and family to identify futures that were likely to precipitate profound cultural shifts in their lives. Not surprisingly, “Korean unification” was at the top of students’ lists. After all, then-president Roh Moo-hyun had in many ways continued the “Sunshine” policies of his predecessor, President Kim Dae-jung, culminating in a largely symbolic train journey from the South to the (...)
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  35. Une conception néo-poppérienne de l’explication en sciences sociales et ses difficultés internes.Philippe Mongin - 2012 - Dialogue 51 (3):503-515.
    This article discusses the rationality principle, especially in Popper's version, on the occasion of a commentary of Maurice Lagueux's book, Rationality and Explanation in Economics (2010).
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  36. Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the Limits of Philosophical Accounts of Mechanistic Explanation.Ingo Brigandt - 2015 - In P.-A. Braillard & C. Malaterre (eds.), Explanation in Biology: An Enquiry into the Diversity of Explanatory Patterns in the Life Sciences. Springer. pp. 135–173.
    Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) is considered a ‘mechanistic science,’ in that it causally explains morphological evolution in terms of changes in developmental mechanisms. Evo-devo is also an interdisciplinary and integrative approach, as its explanations use contributions from many fields and pertain to different levels of organismal organization. Philosophical accounts of mechanistic explanation are currently highly prominent, and have been particularly able to capture the integrative nature of multifield and multilevel explanations. However, I argue that evo-devo demonstrates the need for a (...)
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  37. Rational Explanation and Covering Laws.Paul Langham - 1972 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 10 (4):471-479.
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  38. The Nature of Explanation.Michael Martin - 1987 - International Studies in Philosophy 19 (3):59-59.
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  39. The Explanatory Force of Dynamical and Mathematical Models in Neuroscience: A Mechanistic Perspective.David Michael Kaplan & Carl F. Craver - 2011 - Philosophy of Science 78 (4):601-627.
    We argue that dynamical and mathematical models in systems and cognitive neuro- science explain (rather than redescribe) a phenomenon only if there is a plausible mapping between elements in the model and elements in the mechanism for the phe- nomenon. We demonstrate how this model-to-mechanism-mapping constraint, when satisfied, endows a model with explanatory force with respect to the phenomenon to be explained. Several paradigmatic models including the Haken-Kelso-Bunz model of bimanual coordination and the difference-of-Gaussians model of visual receptive fields are (...)
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  40. Indispensability Arguments in Favour of Reductive Explanations.Jeroen Van Bouwel, Erik Weber & Leen De Vreese - 2011 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 42 (1):33-46.
    Instances of explanatory reduction are often advocated on metaphysical grounds; given that the only real things in the world are subatomic particles and their interaction, we have to try to explain everything in terms of the laws of physics. In this paper, we show that explanatory reduction cannot be defended on metaphysical grounds. Nevertheless, indispensability arguments for reductive explanations can be developed, taking into account actual scientific practice and the role of epistemic interests. Reductive explanations might be indispensable to address (...)
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  41. The Objects of Acceptance: Competing Scientific Explanations.Ronald C. Hopson - 1972 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1972:349 - 363.
    Important revisions and additions to the contemporary objectives of acceptance rules result from construing a theory of warranted inductive inference to presuppose an account of adequate scientific explanations. We conceive the objects of acceptance rules to be the best of competing scientific explanations. Our primary interest is to show how to construct an analysis of competing explanations. Hence our specific investigation concerns the interrelations between the criteria of adequacy for scientific explanations and the definitions of the modes of competition between (...)
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  42. What Should We Expect of a Theory of Explanation?Barbara V. E. Klein - 1980 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1980:319 - 328.
    The purpose of this paper is to provide a meta-theoretic characterization of what ought to be expected of a general theory of explanation, a theory of scientific explanation, and a theory of a kind of explanation. The view presented, called "the logico-normative view", is taken to be implicit in the work of a number of influential writers on the subject, including Hempel. The paper falls into three parts. First, a number of pre-theoretic assumptions are articulated. Second, the two concerns of (...)
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  43. Scientific Explanation: From Covering Law to Covering Theory.Fritz Rohrlich - 1994 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1994:69 - 77.
    A new model of scientific explanation is proposed: the covering theory model. Its goal is understanding. One chooses the appropriate scientific theory and a model within it. From these follows the functioning of the explanandum, i.e. the way in which the model portrays it on one particular cognitive level. It requires an ontology and knowledge of the causal processes, probabilities, or potentialities (propensities) according to which it functions. This knowledge yields understanding. Explanations across cognitive levels demand pluralistic ontologies. An explanation (...)
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  44. Are Singular Causal Explanations Implicit Covering-Law Explanations?James Woodward - 1986 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16 (2):253 - 279.
    My focus in this essay is on those singular causal explanations which purport to explain the occurrence of some particular event by means of a claim of the following general sort The occurrence of event caused the occurrence of event.Examples include sentences like The short circuit caused the fire’ and The impact of the hammer caused the shattering of the glass,’ Many philosophers hold that there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between singular causal explanations and those sentences which (...)
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  45. Two Kinds of Causal Explanation.George Botterill - 2010 - Theoria 76 (4):287-313.
    To give a causal explanation is to give information about causal history. But a vast amount of causal history lies behind anything that happens, far too much to be included in any intelligible explanation. This is the Problem of Limitation for explanatory information. To cope with this problem, explanations must select for what is relevant to and adequate for answering particular inquiries. In the present paper this idea is used in order to distinguish two kinds of causal explanation, on the (...)
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  46. Discussion:Rational Explanation and Covering Laws.Paul Langham - 1972 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 10 (4):471-479.
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  47. Causes and Explanations: A Structural-Model Approach. Part II: Explanations.Joseph Y. Halpern & Judea Pearl - 2005 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (4):889-911.
    We propose new definitions of (causal) explanation, using structural equations to model counterfactuals. The definition is based on the notion of actual cause, as defined and motivated in a companion article. Essentially, an explanation is a fact that is not known for certain but, if found to be true, would constitute an actual cause of the fact to be explained, regardless of the agent's initial uncertainty. We show that the definition handles well a number of problematic examples from the literature.
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