The explanatory virtue of abstracting away from idiosyncratic and messy detail

Philosophical Studies 173 (6):1429-1449 (2016)

Authors
Christopher Clarke
Cambridge University
Abstract
Some explanations are relatively abstract: they abstract away from the idiosyncratic or messy details of the case in hand. The received wisdom in philosophy is that this is a virtue for any explanation to possess. I argue that the apparent consensus on this point is illusory. When philosophers make this claim, they differ on which of four alternative varieties of abstractness they have in mind. What’s more, for each variety of abstractness there are several alternative reasons to think that the variety of abstractness in question is a virtue. I identify the most promising reasons, and dismiss some others. The paper concludes by relating this discussion to the idea that explanations in biology, psychology and social science cannot be replaced by relatively micro explanations without loss of understanding.
Keywords Explanation  Reduction  Explanatory dispensability  Multiple realizability argument
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Reprint years 2016
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-015-0554-6
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References found in this work BETA

Fact, Fiction and Forecast.NELSON GOODMAN - 1955 - Harvard University Press.
Mental Causation.Stephen Yablo - 1992 - Philosophical Review 101 (2):245-280.
What is a Law of Nature?D. M. Armstrong - 1983 - Cambridge University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Should Explanations Omit the Details?Darren Bradley - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
What Is Bayesian Confirmation For?Darren Bradley - 2017 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 31 (3):229-241.

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