What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical?

Marc Lange
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Certain scientific explanations of physical facts have recently been characterized as distinctively mathematical –that is, as mathematical in a different way from ordinary explanations that employ mathematics. This article identifies what it is that makes some scientific explanations distinctively mathematical and how such explanations work. These explanations are non-causal, but this does not mean that they fail to cite the explanandum’s causes, that they abstract away from detailed causal histories, or that they cite no natural laws. Rather, in these explanations, the facts doing the explaining are modally stronger than ordinary causal laws or are understood in the why question’s context to be constitutive of the physical arrangement at issue. A distinctively mathematical explanation works by showing the explanandum to be more necessary than ordinary causal laws could render it. Distinctively mathematical explanations thus supply a kind of understanding that causal explanations cannot. 1 Introduction2 Some Distinctively Mathematical Scientific Explanations3 Are Distinctively Mathematical Explanations Set Apart by their Failure to Cite Causes? 4 Distinctively Mathematical Explanations do not Exploit Causal Powers5 How these Distinctively Mathematical Explanations Work6 Conclusion
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/bjps/axs012
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 45,662
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Humean Supervenience Debugged.David K. Lewis - 1994 - Mind 103 (412):473--490.
Causation as Influence.David K. Lewis - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (4):182-197.
Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation.James Woodward - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
Making Things Happen.James Woodward - 2005 - Philosophical Review 114 (4):545-547.

View all 37 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Abstract Explanations in Science.Christopher Pincock - 2015 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66 (4):857-882.
Explanation in Computational Neuroscience: Causal and Non-Causal.M. Chirimuuta - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (3):849-880.
The Directionality of Distinctively Mathematical Explanations.Carl F. Craver & Mark Povich - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 63:31-38.

View all 91 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Understanding Science: Why Causes Are Not Enough.Ruth Berger - 1998 - Philosophy of Science 65 (2):306-332.
What Are Mathematical Coincidences ?M. Lange - 2010 - Mind 119 (474):307-340.
Forms of Causal Explanation.Erik Weber, Jeroen Van Bouwel & Robrecht Vanderbeeken - 2005 - Foundations of Science 10 (4):437-454.
Mathematics and Program Explanations.Juha Saatsi - 2012 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (3):579-584.
Non‐Committal Causal Explanations.David Pineda - 2010 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 24 (2):147-170.
Mathematical Explanations Of Empirical Facts, And Mathematical Realism.Aidan Lyon - 2012 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (3):559-578.
Indexing and Mathematical Explanation.Alan Baker & Mark Colyvan - 2011 - Philosophia Mathematica 19 (3):323-334.
Causal Explanations of Behavior.Merrilee H. Salmon - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (4):720-738.
Causal and Mechanistic Explanations in Ecology.Jani Raerinne - 2011 - Acta Biotheoretica 59 (3):251-271.
An Easy Road to Nominalism.O. Bueno - 2012 - Mind 121 (484):967-982.


Added to PP index

Total views
333 ( #18,185 of 2,280,770 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
19 ( #44,510 of 2,280,770 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature