Biology and Philosophy 32 (6):1105-1125 (2017)

Eric Hochstein
University of Victoria
Traditionally, a scientific model is thought to provide a good scientific explanation to the extent that it satisfies certain scientific goals that are thought to be constitutive of explanation. Problems arise when we realize that individual scientific models cannot simultaneously satisfy all the scientific goals typically associated with explanation. A given model’s ability to satisfy some goals must always come at the expense of satisfying others. This has resulted in philosophical disputes regarding which of these goals are in fact necessary for explanation, and as such which types of models can and cannot provide explanations. Explanatory monists argue that one goal will be explanatory in all contexts, while explanatory pluralists argue that the goal will vary based on pragmatic considerations. In this paper, I argue that such debates are misguided, and that both monists and pluralists are incorrect. Instead of any goal being given explanatory priority over others in a given context, the different goals are all deeply dependent on one another for their explanatory power. Any model that sacrifices some explanatory goals to attain others will always necessarily undermine its own explanatory power in the process. And so when forced to choose between individual scientific models, there can be no explanatory victors. Given that no model can satisfy all the goals typically associated with explanation, no one model in isolation can provide a good scientific explanation. Instead we must appeal to collections of models. Collections of models provide an explanation when they satisfy the web of interconnected goals that justify the explanatory power of one another.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10539-017-9595-x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.

View all 61 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Counterfactuals and Explanatory Pluralism.Kareem Khalifa, Gabriel Doble & Jared Millson - 2020 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (4):1439-1460.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Distinguishing Explanatory From Nonexplanatory Fictions.Alisa Bokulich - 2012 - Philosophy of Science 79 (5):725-737.
How Scientific Models Can Explain.Alisa Bokulich - 2011 - Synthese 180 (1):33 - 45.
EMU and Inference: What the Explanatory Model of Scientific Understanding Ignores.Mark Newman - 2014 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 4 (1):55-74.
Dynamical Models and Explanation in Neuroscience.Lauren N. Ross - 2015 - Philosophy of Science 82 (1):32-54.
False Models as Explanatory Engines.Frank Hindriks - 2008 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 38 (3):334-360.
When Mechanistic Models Explain.Carl F. Craver - 2006 - Synthese 153 (3):355-376.
The Ontic Account of Scientific Explanation.Carl F. Craver - 2014 - In Marie I. Kaiser, Oliver R. Scholz, Daniel Plenge & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Explanation in the Special Sciences: The Case of Biology and History. Springer Verlag. pp. 27-52.
Explanation and the Explanatory Gap.Elanor Taylor - 2016 - Acta Analytica 31 (1):77-88.
Varying the Explanatory Span: Scientific Explanation for Computer Simulations.Juan Manuel Durán - 2017 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 31 (1):27-45.
How Could a Rational Analysis Model Explain?Samuli Reijula - 2017 - COGSCI 2017: 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society,.


Added to PP index

Total views
174 ( #56,928 of 2,427,504 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
19 ( #40,330 of 2,427,504 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes