Explanation and Understanding: An Alternative to Strevens’ D epth

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1 (1):29-38 (2011)
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Abstract

Michael Strevens offers an account of causal explanation according to which explanatory practice is shaped by counterbalanced commitments to representing causal influence and abstracting away from overly specific details. In this paper, I challenge a key feature of that account. I argue that what Strevens calls explanatory frameworks figure prominently in explanatory practice because they actually improve explanations. This suggestion is simple but has far-reaching implications. It affects the status of explanations that cite multiply realizable properties; changes the explanatory role of causal factors with small effect; and undermines Strevens’ titular explanatory virtue, depth. This results in greater coherence with explanatory practice and accords with the emphasis that Strevens places on explanatory patterns. Ultimately, my suggestion preserves a tight connection between explanation and the creation of understanding by taking into account explanations’ role in communication

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Angela Potochnik
University of Cincinnati

Citations of this work

Understanding from Machine Learning Models.Emily Sullivan - 2022 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 73 (1):109-133.
The diverse aims of science.Angela Potochnik - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 53:71-80.
Causal patterns and adequate explanations.Angela Potochnik - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (5):1163-1182.
Proportionality, contrast and explanation.Brad Weslake - 2013 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (4):785-797.

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.
Special sciences.Jerry A. Fodor - 1974 - Synthese 28 (2):97-115.

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