Explanation, Multiple Perspectives, and Understanding

Balkan Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):19-34 (2017)
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Abstract

Science is increasingly interdisciplinary, as evidenced by empirical measures, funding initiatives, and the rise of integrative fields such as systems biology and cognitive neuroscience. In this paper, I motivate and outline an account of explanation for interdisciplinary contexts, building on recent debates about scientific perspectivism. Insights from these debates yield an inclusive list of relations between models constructed from different perspectives, which I then refine and generalize into a simple taxonomy. Within this taxonomy of relations among models, I identify the set of relations applicable to interdisciplinary contexts, discuss concepts of unification associated with each, and introduce three further constraints which furnish norms for this variety of explanation. Finally, I discuss implications of this account for a recent debate about understanding and explanation. One important consequence of my view is that explanation in interdisciplinary contexts and understanding of individual agents in those contexts are not equivalent.

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Melinda Bonnie Fagan
University of Utah

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