Philosophical Studies 175 (3):665-702 (2018)

Philippe Huneman
University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
This paper argues that in some explanations mathematics are playing an explanatory rather than a representational role, and that this feature unifies many types of non-causal or non-mechanistic explanations that some philosophers of science have been recently exploring under various names. After showing how mathematics can play either a representational or an explanatory role by considering two alternative explanations of a same biological pattern—“Bergmann’s rule”—I offer an example of an explanation where the bulk of the explanatory job is done by a mathematical theorem, and where mechanisms involved in the target systems are not explanatorily relevant. Then I account for the way mathematical properties may function in an explanatory way within an explanation by arguing that some mathematical propositions involving variables non directly referring to the target system features constitute constraints to which a whole class of systems should comply, provided they are describable by a mathematical object concerned by those propositions. According to such “constraint account”, those mathematical facts are directly entailing the explanandum, as a consequence of such constraints. I call those explanations “structural”, because here properties of mathematical structures are accounting for the explanandum; various kinds of mathematical structures thereby define various types of structural explanations.
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-017-0887-4
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References found in this work BETA

Explaining the Brain.Carl F. Craver - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
Explanation and Scientific Understanding.Michael Friedman - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.

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Citations of this work BETA

General Theory of Topological Explanations and Explanatory Asymmetry.Daniel Kostic - 2020 - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 375 (1796):1-8.
Typology and Natural Kinds in Evo-Devo.Ingo Brigandt - 2021 - In Laura Nuño De La Rosa & Gerd Müller (eds.), Evolutionary Developmental Biology: A Reference Guide. Cham: Springer. pp. 483-493.

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