The explanatory dispensability of idealizations

Synthese 193 (2):365-386 (2016)
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Enhanced indispensability arguments seek to establish realism about mathematics based on the explanatory role that mathematics plays in science. Idealizations pose a problem for such arguments. Idealizations, in a similar way to mathematics, boost the explanatory credentials of our best scientific theories. And yet, idealizations are not the sorts of things that are supposed to attract a realist attitude. I argue that the explanatory symmetry between idealizations and mathematics can potentially be broken as follows: although idealizations contribute to the explanatory power of our best theories, they do not carry the explanatory load. It is at least open however that mathematics is load-carrying. To give this idea substance, I offer an analysis of what it is to carry the explanatory load in terms of difference-making and counterfactuals



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Sam Baron
University of Melbourne

Citations of this work

Mathematical Explanation by Law.Sam Baron - 2019 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 70 (3):683-717.
Mathematics and Explanatory Generality.Alan Baker - 2017 - Philosophia Mathematica 25 (2):194-209.
Infinite idealizations in physics.Elay Shech - 2018 - Philosophy Compass 13 (9):e12514.

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Science Without Numbers: A Defence of Nominalism.Hartry H. Field - 1980 - Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.
The Indispensability of Mathematics.Mark Colyvan - 2001 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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