Erkenntnis 81 (5):1051-1071 (2016)

Abstract
In this paper we assess the explanatory role of idealizations in ‘design explanations’, a type of functional explanation used in biology. In design explanations, idealizations highlight which factors make a difference to phenomena to be explained: hypothetical, idealized, organisms are invoked to make salient which traits of extant organisms make a difference to organismal fitness. This result negates the view that idealizations serve only pragmatic benefits, and complements the view that idealizations highlight factors that do not make a difference. This analysis in particular strengthens the perspective that idealizations are means to highlight difference making factors, and identifies a novel, more direct role for idealizations in doing so. It thus offers a novel argument why in some explanatory contexts idealizations are in-eliminable.
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-015-9782-6
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