Patterns in Cognitive Phenomena and Pluralism of Explanatory Styles

Topics in Cognitive Science 12 (4):1306-1320 (2019)
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Debate about cognitive science explanations has been formulated in terms of identifying the proper level(s) of explanation. Views range from reductionist, favoring only neuroscience explanations, to mechanist, favoring the integration of multiple levels, to pluralist, favoring the preservation of even the most general, high-level explanations, such as those provided by embodied or dynamical approaches. In this paper, we challenge this framing. We suggest that these are not different levels of explanation at all but, rather, different styles of explanation that capture different, cross-cutting patterns in cognitive phenomena. Which pattern is explanatory depends on both the cognitive phenomenon under investigation and the research interests occasioning the explanation. This reframing changes how we should answer the basic questions of which cognitive science approaches explain and how these explanations relate to one another. On this view, we should expect different approaches to offer independent explanations in terms of their different focal patterns and the value of those explanations to partly derive from the broad patterns they feature.

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Author Profiles

Angela Potochnik
University of Cincinnati
Guilherme Sanches de Oliveira
Technische Universität Berlin

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Explaining the brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - New York : Oxford University Press,: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.
Idealization and the Aims of Science.Angela Potochnik - 2017 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Explanation and scientific understanding.Michael Friedman - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.

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