How do we go about weighing evidence, testing hypotheses, and making inferences? The model of " inference to the best explanation " -- that we infer the hypothesis that would, if correct, provide the best explanation of the available evidence--offers a compelling account of inferences both in science and in ordinary life. Widely cited by epistemologists and philosophers of science, IBE has nonetheless remained little more than a slogan. Now this influential work has been thoroughly revised and updated, (...) and features a new introduction and two new chapters. Inference to the Best Explanation is an unrivaled exposition of a theory of particular interest in the fields both of epistemology and the philosophy of science. (shrink)
Woodward's long awaited book is an attempt to construct a comprehensive account of causation explanation that applies to a wide variety of causal and explanatory claims in different areas of science and everyday life. The book engages some of the relevant literature from other disciplines, as Woodward weaves together examples, counterexamples, criticisms, defenses, objections, and replies into a convincing defense of the core of his theory, which is that we can analyze causation by appeal to the notion of manipulation.
Approaches to explanation -- Causal and explanatory relevance -- The kairetic account of /D making -- The kairetic account of explanation -- Extending the kairetic account -- Event explanation and causal claims -- Regularity explanation -- Abstraction in regularity explanation -- Approaches to probabilistic explanation -- Kairetic explanation of frequencies -- Kairetic explanation of single outcomes -- Looking outward -- Looking inward.
Is conceptual analysis required for reductive explanation? If there is no a priori entailment from microphysical truths to phenomenal truths, does reductive explanation of the phenomenal fail? We say yes . Ned Block and Robert Stalnaker say no.
According to one large family of views, scientific explanations explain a phenomenon (such as an event or a regularity) by subsuming it under a general representation, model, prototype, or schema (see Bechtel, W., & Abrahamsen, A. (2005). Explanation: A mechanist alternative. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36(2), 421–441; Churchland, P. M. (1989). A neurocomputational perspective: The nature of mind and the structure of science. Cambridge: MIT Press; Darden (2006); Hempel, C. G. (1965). Aspects of (...) scientific explanation. In C. G. Hempel (Ed.), Aspects of scientific explanation (pp. 331–496). New York: Free Press; Kitcher (1989); Machamer, P., Darden, L., & Craver, C. F. (2000). Thinking about mechanisms. Philosophy of Science, 67(1), 1–25). My concern is with the minimal suggestion that an adequate philosophical theory of scientific explanation can limit its attention to the format or structure with which theories are represented. The representational subsumption view is a plausible hypothesis about the psychology of understanding. It is also a plausible claim about how scientists present their knowledge to the world. However, one cannot address the central questions for a philosophical theory of scientific explanation without turning one’s attention from the structure of representations to the basic commitments about the worldly structures that plausibly count as explanatory. A philosophical theory of scientific explanation should achieve two goals. The first is explanatory demarcation. It should show how explanation relates with other scientific achievements, such as control, description, measurement, prediction, and taxonomy. The second is explanatory normativity. It should say when putative explanations succeed and fail. One cannot achieve these goals without undertaking commitments about the kinds of ontic structures that plausibly count as explanatory. Representations convey explanatory information about a phenomenon when and only when they describe the ontic explanations for those phenomena. (shrink)
A common kind of explanation in cognitive neuroscience might be called function-theoretic: with some target cognitive capacity in view, the theorist hypothesizes that the system computes a well-defined function (in the mathematical sense) and explains how computing this function constitutes the exercise of the cognitive capacity (in the system's normal environment). Recently, proponents of the so-called ‘new mechanist’ approach in philosophy of science have argued that a model of a cognitive capacity is explanatory only to the extent that it (...) reveals the causal structure of the mechanism underlying the capacity. If they are right, then a cognitive model that resists a transparent mapping to known neural mechanisms fails to be explanatory. I argue that a function-theoretic characterization of a cognitive capacity can be genuinely explanatory even absent an account of how the capacity is realized in neural hardware. (shrink)
Wesley Salmon is renowned for his seminal contributions to the philosophy of science. He has powerfully and permanently shaped discussion of such issues as lawlike and probabilistic explanation and the interrelation of explanatory notions to causal notions. This unique volume brings together twenty-six of his essays on subjects related to causality and explanation, written over the period 1971-1995. Six of the essays have never been published before and many others have only appeared in obscure venues. The volume includes (...) a section of accessible introductory pieces, as well as more advanced and technical pieces, and will make essential work in the philosophy of science readily available to both scholars and students. (shrink)
This is an introduction to the volume "Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations", edited by A. Reutlinger and J. Saatsi (OUP, forthcoming in 2017). -/- Explanations are very important to us in many contexts: in science, mathematics, philosophy, and also in everyday and juridical contexts. But what is an explanation? In the philosophical study of explanation, there is long-standing, influential tradition that links explanation intimately to causation: we often explain by providing accurate information about (...) the causes of the phenomenon to be explained. Such causal accounts have been the received view of the nature of explanation, particularly in philosophy of science, since the 1980s. However, philosophers have recently begun to break with this causal tradition by shifting their focus to kinds of explanation that do not turn on causal information. The increasing recognition of the importance of such non-causal explanations in the sciences and elsewhere raises pressing questions for philosophers of explanation. What is the nature of non-causal explanations - and which theory best captures it? How do non-causal explanations relate to causal ones? How are non-causal explanations in the sciences related to those in mathematics and metaphysics? This volume of new essays explores answers to these and other questions at the heart of contemporary philosophy of explanation. The essays address these questions from a variety of perspectives, including general accounts of non-causal and causal explanations, as well as a wide range of detailed case studies of non-causal explanations from the sciences, mathematics and metaphysics. (shrink)
A common kind of explanation in cognitive neuroscience might be called functiontheoretic: with some target cognitive capacity in view, the theorist hypothesizes that the system computes a well-defined function (in the mathematical sense) and explains how computing this function constitutes (in the system’s normal environment) the exercise of the cognitive capacity. Recently, proponents of the so-called ‘new mechanist’ approach in philosophy of science have argued that a model of a cognitive capacity is explanatory only to the extent that it (...) reveals the causal structure of the mechanism underlying the capacity. If they are right, then a cognitive model that resists a transparent mapping to known neural mechanisms fails to be explanatory. I argue that a functiontheoretic characterization of a cognitive capacity can be genuinely explanatory even absent an account of how the capacity is realized in neural hardware. (shrink)
Hempel’s Converse Consequence Condition (CCC), Entailment Condition (EC), and Special Consequence Condition (SCC) have some prima facie plausibility when taken individually. Hempel, though, shows that they have no plausibility when taken together, for together they entail that E confirms H for any propositions E and H. This is “Hempel’s paradox”. It turns out that Hempel’s argument would fail if one or more of CCC, EC, and SCC were modified in terms of explanation. This opens up the possibility that Hempel’s (...) paradox can be solved by modifying one or more of CCC, EC, and SCC in terms of explanation. I explore this possibility by modifying CCC and SCC in terms of explanation and considering whether CCC and SCC so modified are correct. I also relate that possibility to Inference to the Best Explanation. (shrink)
The philosophical conception of mechanistic explanation is grounded on a limited number of canonical examples. These examples provide an overly narrow view of contemporary scientific practice, because they do not reflect the extent to which the heuristic strategies and descriptive practices that contribute to mechanistic explanation have evolved beyond the well-known methods of decomposition, localization, and pictorial representation. Recent examples from evolutionary robotics and network approaches to biology and neuroscience demonstrate the increasingly important role played by computer simulations (...) and mathematical representations in the epistemic practices of mechanism discovery and mechanism description. These examples also indicate that the scope of mechanistic explanation must be re-examined: With new and increasingly powerful methods of discovery and description comes the possibility of describing mechanisms far more complex than traditionally assumed. (shrink)
Scientific understanding, this paper argues, can be analyzed entirely in terms of a mental act of “grasping” and a notion of explanation. To understand why a phenomenon occurs is to grasp a correct explanation of the phenomenon. To understand a scientific theory is to be able to construct, or at least to grasp, a range of potential explanations in which that theory accounts for other phenomena. There is no route to scientific understanding, then, that does not go by (...) way of scientific explanation. (shrink)
The ontic conception of explanation, according to which explanations are "full-bodied things in the world," is fundamentally misguided. I argue instead for what I call the eikonic conception, according to which explanations are the product of an epistemic activity involving representations of the phenomena to be explained. What is explained in the first instance is a particular conceptualization of the explanandum phenomenon, contextualized within a given research program or explanatory project. I conclude that this eikonic conception has a number (...) of benefits, including making better sense of scientific practice and allowing for the full range of normative constraints on explanation. (shrink)
Many epistemologists take Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) to be “fundamental.” For instance, Lycan (1988, 128) writes that “all justified reasoning is fundamentally explanatory reasoning.” Conee and Feldman (2008, 97) concur: “fundamental epistemic principles are principles of best explanation.” Call them fundamentalists. They assert that nothing deeper could justify IBE, as is typically assumed of rules of deductive inference, such as modus ponens. However, logicians account for modus ponens with the valuation rule for the material conditional. By (...) contrast, fundamentalists account for IBE with an ill-defined set of relations that happen to furnish their favorite set of inductive inferences. To our eye, this seems a little too convenient—there is too much room for ad hoc, just-so stories about the “striking” correspondence between our explanatory and inductive practices. We will argue that the (explanatory) pluralism adopted by the leading theorists of the best explanation—philosophers of science—undermines fundamentalism. Section 1 clarifies fundamentalism’s key tenets. Section 2 presents pluralism’s challenge to fundamentalism. Section 3 considers a potential fundamentalist reply to this challenge. Sections 4 through 6 canvass the leading candidates for developing this fundamentalist reply, showing each to be unsatisfactory. (shrink)
Are moral properties intellectually indispensable, and, if so, what consequences does this have for our understanding of their nature, and of our talk and knowledge of them? Are mathematical objects intellectually indispensable, and, if so, what consequences does this have for our understanding of their nature, and of our talk and knowledge of them? What similarities are there, if any, in the answers to the first two questions? Can comparison of the two cases shed light on which answers are most (...) plausible in either case? This chapter – the introduction to the volume Explanation in Ethics and Mathematics – elucidates these questions and sketches their history. (shrink)
Detailed examinations of scientific practice have revealed that the use of idealized models in the sciences is pervasive. These models play a central role in not only the investigation and prediction of phenomena, but in their received scientific explanations as well. This has led philosophers of science to begin revising the traditional philosophical accounts of scientific explanation in order to make sense of this practice. These new model-based accounts of scientific explanation, however, raise a number of key questions: (...) Can the fictions and falsehoods inherent in the modeling practice do real explanatory work? Do some highly abstract and mathematical models exhibit a noncausal form of scientific explanation? How can one distinguish an exploratory "how-possibly" model explanation from a genuine "how-actually" model explanation? Do modelers face tradeoffs such that a model that is optimized for yielding explanatory insight, for example, might fail to be the most predictively accurate, and vice versa? This chapter explores the various answers that have been given to these questions. (shrink)
The central aim of this paper is to shed light on the nature of explanation in computational neuroscience. I argue that computational models in this domain possess explanatory force to the extent that they describe the mechanisms responsible for producing a given phenomenon—paralleling how other mechanistic models explain. Conceiving computational explanation as a species of mechanistic explanation affords an important distinction between computational models that play genuine explanatory roles and those that merely provide accurate descriptions or predictions (...) of phenomena. It also serves to clarify the pattern of model refinement and elaboration undertaken by computational neuroscientists. (shrink)
Mechanistic explanation has an impressive track record of advancing our understanding of complex, hierarchically organized physical systems, particularly biological and neural systems. But not every complex system can be understood mechanistically. Psychological capacities are often understood by providing cognitive models of the systems that underlie them. I argue that these models, while superficially similar to mechanistic models, in fact have a substantially more complex relation to the real underlying system. They are typically constructed using a range of techniques for (...) abstracting the functional properties of the system, which may not coincide with its mechanistic organization. I describe these techniques and show that despite being non-mechanistic, these cognitive models can satisfy the normative constraints on good explanations. (shrink)
Recently, several authors have argued that scientific understanding should be a new topic of philosophical research. In this article, I argue that the three most developed accounts of understanding--Grimm's, de Regt's, and de Regt and Dieks's--can be replaced by earlier accounts of scientific explanation without loss. Indeed, in some cases, such replacements have clear benefits.
The paper discusses how systems biology is working toward complex accounts that integrate explanation in terms of mechanisms and explanation by mathematical models—which some philosophers have viewed as rival models of explanation. Systems biology is an integrative approach, and it strongly relies on mathematical modeling. Philosophical accounts of mechanisms capture integrative in the sense of multilevel and multifield explanations, yet accounts of mechanistic explanation have failed to address how a mathematical model could contribute to such explanations. (...) I discuss how mathematical equations can be explanatorily relevant. Several cases from systems biology are discussed to illustrate the interplay between mechanistic research and mathematical modeling, and I point to questions about qualitative phenomena, where quantitative models are still indispensable to the explanation. Systems biology shows that a broader philosophical conception of mechanisms is needed, which takes into account functional-dynamical aspects, interaction in complex networks with feedback loops, system-wide functional properties such as distributed functionality and robustness, and a mechanism’s ability to respond to perturbations. I offer general conclusions for philosophical accounts of explanation. (shrink)
Teleological explanations (TEs) account for the existence or properties of an entity in terms of a function: we have hearts because they pump blood, and telephones for communication. While many teleological explanations seem appropriate, others are clearly not warranted-for example, that rain exists for plants to grow. Five experiments explore the theoretical commitments that underlie teleological explanations. With the analysis of [Wright, L. (1976). Teleological Explanations. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press] from philosophy as a point of departure, we examine (...) in Experiment 1 whether teleological explanations are interpreted causally, and confirm that TEs are only accepted when the function invoked in the explanation played a causal role in bringing about what is being explained. However, we also find that playing a causal role is not sufficient for all participants to accept TEs. Experiment 2 shows that this is not because participants fail to appreciate the causal structure of the scenarios used as stimuli. In Experiments 3-5 we show that the additional requirement for TE acceptance is that the process by which the function played a causal role must be general in the sense of conforming to a predictable pattern. These findings motivate a proposal, Explanation for Export, which suggests that a psychological function of explanation is to highlight information likely to subserve future prediction and intervention. We relate our proposal to normative accounts of explanation from philosophy of science, as well as to claims from psychology and artificial intelligence. (shrink)
Defenders of Inference to the Best Explanation claim that explanatory factors should play an important role in empirical inference. They disagree, however, about how exactly to formulate this role. In particular, they disagree about whether to formulate IBE as an inference rule for full beliefs or for degrees of belief, as well as how a rule for degrees of belief should relate to Bayesianism. In this essay I advance a new argument against non-Bayesian versions of IBE. My argument focuses (...) on cases in which we are concerned with multiple levels of explanation of some phenomenon. I show that in many such cases, following IBE as an inference rule for full beliefs leads to deductively inconsistent beliefs, and following IBE as a non-Bayesian updating rule for degrees of belief leads to probabilistically incoherent degrees of belief. (shrink)
The paper explores a deductive-nomological account of metaphysical explanation: some truths metaphysically explain, or ground, another truth just in case the laws of metaphysics determine the latter truth on the basis of the former. I develop and motivate a specific conception of metaphysical laws, on which they are general rules that regulate the existence and features of derivative entities. I propose an analysis of the notion of ‘determination via the laws’, based on a restricted form of logical entailment. I (...) argue that the DN-account of ground can be defended against the well-known objections to the DN-approach to scientific explanation. The goal of the paper is to show that the DN-account of metaphysical explanation is a well-motivated and defensible theory. (shrink)
Attempts to elucidate grounding are often made by connecting grounding to metaphysical explanation, but the notion of metaphysical explanation is itself opaque, and has received little attention in the literature. We can appeal to theories of explanation in the philosophy of science to give us a characterization of metaphysical explanation, but this reveals a tension between three theses: that grounding relations are objective and mind-independent; that there are pragmatic elements to metaphysical explanation; and that grounding (...) and metaphysical explanation share a close connection. Holding fixed the mind-independence of grounding, I show that neither horn of the resultant dilemma can be blunted. Consequently, we should reject the assumption that grounding relations are mind-independent. (shrink)
How regular do mechanisms need to be, in order to count as mechanisms? This paper addresses two arguments for dropping the requirement of regularity from the definition of a mechanism, one motivated by examples from the sciences and the other motivated by metaphysical considerations regarding causation. I defend a broadened regularity requirement on mechanisms that takes the form of a taxonomy of kinds of regularity that mechanisms may exhibit. This taxonomy allows precise explication of the degree and location of regular (...) operation within a mechanism, and highlights the role that various kinds of regularity play in scientific explanation. I defend this regularity requirement in terms of regularity’s role in individuating mechanisms against a background of other causal processes, and by prioritizing mechanisms’ ability to serve as a model of scientific explanation, rather than as a metaphysical account of causation. It is because mechanisms are regular, in the expanded sense described here, that they are capable of supporting the kinds of generalizations that figure prominently in scientific explanations. (shrink)
Some properties are causally relevant for a certain effect, others are not. In this paper we describe a problem for our understanding of this notion and then offer a solution in terms of the notion of a program explanation.
The ontic conception of scientific explanation has been constructed and motivated on the basis of a putative lexical ambiguity in the term explanation. I raise a puzzle for this ambiguity claim, and then give a deflationary solution under which all ontically-rendered talk of explanation is merely elliptical; what it is elliptical for is a view of scientific explanation that altogether avoids the ontic conception. This result has revisionary consequences for New Mechanists and other philosophers of science, (...) many of whom have assimilated their conception of explanation to the ontic conception. (shrink)
Kaplan and Craver claim that all explanations in neuroscience appeal to mechanisms. They extend this view to the use of mathematical models in neuroscience and propose a constraint such models must meet in order to be explanatory. I analyze a mathematical model used to provide explanations in dynamical systems neuroscience and indicate how this explanation cannot be accommodated by the mechanist framework. I argue that this explanation is well characterized by Batterman’s account of minimal model explanations and that (...) it demonstrates how relationships between explanatory models in neuroscience and the systems they represent is more complex than has been appreciated. (shrink)
It has often been argued that Humean accounts of natural law cannot account for the role played by laws in scientific explanations. Loewer (Philosophical Studies 2012) has offered a new reply to this argument on behalf of Humean accounts—a reply that distinguishes between grounding (which Loewer portrays as underwriting a kind of metaphysical explanation) and scientific explanation. I will argue that Loewer’s reply fails because it cannot accommodate the relation between metaphysical and scientific explanation. This relation also (...) resolves a puzzle about scientific explanation that Hempel and Oppenheim (Philosophy of Science 15:135–75, 1948) encountered. (shrink)
The received view of dynamical explanation is that dynamical cognitive science seeks to provide covering law explanations of cognitive phenomena. By analyzing three prominent examples of dynamicist research, I show that the received view is misleading: some dynamical explanations are mechanistic explanations, and in this way resemble computational and connectionist explanations. Interestingly, these dynamical explanations invoke the mathematical framework of dynamical systems theory to describe mechanisms far more complex and distributed than the ones typically considered by philosophers. Therefore, contemporary (...) dynamicist research reveals the need for a more sophisticated account of mechanistic explanation. (shrink)
A philosophically useful account of social structure must accommodate the fact that social structures play an important role in structural explanation. But what is a structural explanation? How do structural explanations function in the social sciences? This paper offers a way of thinking about structural explanation and sketches an account of social structure that connects social structures with structural explanation.
What is the nature of causation? How is causation linked with explanation? And can there be an adequate theory of explanation? These questions and many others are addressed in this unified and rigorous examination of the philosophical problems surrounding causation, laws and explanation. Part 1 of this book explores Hume's views on causation, theories of singular causation, and counterfactual and mechanistic approaches. Part 2 considers the regularity view of laws and laws as relations among universals, as well (...) as recent alternative approaches to laws. Part 3 examines the issues arising from deductive-nomological explanation, statistical explanation, the explanation of laws and the metaphysics of explanation. Accessible to readers of all levels, this book provides an excellent introduction to one of the most enduring problems of philosophy. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Kaplan (Synthese 183:339–373, 2011) takes up the task of extending Craver’s (Explaining the brain, 2007) mechanistic account of explanation in neuroscience to the new territory of computational neuroscience. He presents the model to mechanism mapping (3M) criterion as a condition for a model’s explanatory adequacy. This mechanistic approach is intended to replace earlier accounts which posited a level of computational analysis conceived as distinct and autonomous from underlying mechanistic details. In this paper I discuss work (...) in computational neuroscience that creates difficulties for the mechanist project. Carandini and Heeger (Nat Rev Neurosci 13:51–62, 2012) propose that many neural response properties can be understood in terms of canonical neural computations. These are “standard computational modules that apply the same fundamental operations in a variety of contexts.” Importantly, these computations can have numerous biophysical realisations, and so straightforward examination of the mechanisms underlying these computations carries little explanatory weight. Through a comparison between this modelling approach and minimal models in other branches of science, I argue that computational neuroscience frequently employs a distinct explanatory style, namely, efficient coding explanation. Such explanations cannot be assimilated into the mechanistic framework but do bear interesting similarities with evolutionary and optimality explanations elsewhere in biology. (shrink)
Many think that sentences about what metaphysically explains what are true iff there exist grounding relations. This suggests that sceptics about grounding should be error theorists about metaphysical explanation. We think there is a better option: a theory of metaphysical explanation which offers truth conditions for claims about what metaphysically explains what that are not couched in terms of grounding relations, but are instead couched in terms of, inter alia, psychological facts. We do not argue that our account (...) is superior to grounding-based accounts. Rather, we offer it to those already ill-disposed towards grounding. (shrink)
The goal of this paper is to develop a counterfactual theory of explanation. The CTE provides a monist framework for causal and non-causal explanations, according to which both causal and non-causal explanations are explanatory by virtue of revealing counterfactual dependencies between the explanandum and the explanans. I argue that the CTE is applicable to two paradigmatic examples of non-causal explanations: Euler’s explanation and renormalization group explanations of universality.
The interventionist account of causal explanation, in the version presented by Jim Woodward, has been recently claimed capable of buttressing the widely felt—though poorly understood—hunch that high-level, relatively abstract explanations, of the sort provided by sciences like biology, psychology and economics, are in some cases explanatorily optimal. It is the aim of this paper to show that this is mistaken. Due to a lack of effective constraints on the causal variables at the heart of the interventionist causal-explanatory scheme, as (...) presently formulated it is either unable to prefer high-level explanations to low, or systematically overshoots, recommending explanations at so high of a level as to be virtually vacuous. (shrink)
Alan Millar examines our understanding of why people think and act as they do. His key theme is that normative considerations form an indispensable part of the explanatory framework which we use to understand each other. Millar offers illuminating discussions of reasons for belief and reasons for action, the explanation of beliefs and actions in terms of the subject's reasons, the idea that simulation has a key role in understanding people, and the limits of explanation in terms of (...) propositional attitudes. (shrink)
I argue that there is an important similarity between causation and grounding. In particular I argue that, just as there is a type of scientific explanation that appeals to causal mechanisms—causal-mechanical explanation—there is a type of metaphysical explanation that appeals to grounding mechanisms—grounding-mechanical explanation. The upshot is that the role that grounding mechanisms play in certain metaphysical explanations mirrors the role that causal mechanisms play in certain scientific explanations. In this light, it becomes clear that grounding-mechanical (...) explanations make crucial contributions to the evaluation of a variety of important philosophical theses, including priority monism and physicalism. (shrink)
Renormalization group (RG) methods are an established strategy to explain how it is possible that microscopically different systems exhibit virtually the same macro behavior when undergoing phase-transitions. I argue – in agreement with Robert Batterman – that RG explanations are non-causal explanations. However, Batterman misidentifies the reason why RG explanations are non-causal: it is not the case that an explanation is non- causal if it ignores causal details. I propose an alternative argument, according to which RG explanations are non-causal (...) explanations because their explanatory power is due to the application mathematical operations, which do not serve the purpose of representing causal relations. (shrink)
I discuss the methodological passage in the begin- ning of Ethica Eudemia I.6 (1216b26-35), which has received attention in connection with Aristotle’s notion of dialectic and his methodology in Ethics. My central focus is not to discuss whether Aristotle is prescribing and using what has been called the method of endoxa. I will focus on how this passage coheres with the remaining parts of the same chapter, which also are advancing methodological remarks. My claim is that the meth- od of (...) Ethica Eudemia I.6 is in agreement with many features of Aristotle’s theory of explanation as presented in the Posterior Analytics: Aristotle’s main concern is a warning against misuses of explanatory arguments. (shrink)
The philosophical theory of scientific explanation proposed here involves a radically new treatment of causality that accords with the pervasively statistical character of contemporary science. Wesley C. Salmon describes three fundamental conceptions of scientific explanation--the epistemic, modal, and ontic. He argues that the prevailing view is untenable and that the modal conception is scientifically out-dated. Significantly revising aspects of his earlier work, he defends a causal/mechanical theory that is a version of the ontic conception. Professor Salmon's theory furnishes (...) a robust argument for scientific realism akin to the argument that convinced twentieth-century physical scientists of the existence of atoms and molecules. To do justice to such notions as irreducibly statistical laws and statistical explanation, he offers a novel account of physical randomness. The transition from the "reviewed view" of scientific explanation to the causal/mechanical model requires fundamental rethinking of basic explanatory concepts. (shrink)
Humeans are often accused of accounting for natural laws in such a way that the fundamental entities that are supposed to explain the laws circle back and explain themselves. Loewer (Philos Stud 160(1):115–137, 2012) contends this is only the appearance of circularity. When it comes to the laws of nature, the Humean posits two kinds of explanation: metaphysical and scientific. The circle is then cut because the kind of explanation the laws provide for the fundamental entities is distinct (...) from the kind of explanation the entities provide for the laws. Lange (Philos Stud 164(1):255–261, 2013) has replied that Loewer’s defense is a distinction without a difference. As Lange sees it, Humeanism still produces a circular explanation because scientific explanations are transmitted across metaphysical explanations. We disagree that metaphysical explanation is such a ready conduit of scientific explanation. In what follows, we clear Humeanism of all charges of circularity by exploring how different kinds of explanation can and cannot interact. Our defense of Humeanism begins by presenting the circularity objection and detailing how it relies on an implausible principle about the transitivity of explanation. Then, we turn to Lange’s (Philos Stud 164(1):255–261, 2013) transitivity principle for explanation to argue that it fairs no better. With objections neutral to the debate between Humeanism and anti-Humeanism, we will show that his principle is not able to make the circularity objection sound. (shrink)
This paper discusses the idea that some of the causal factors that are responsible for the production of a natural phenomenon are explanatorily irrelevant and, thus, may be omitted or distorted. It argues against Craig Callender’s suggestion that the standard explanation of phase transitions in statistical mechanics may be considered a causal explanation, in Michael Strevens’ sense, as a distortion that can nevertheless successfully represent causal relations.
Arguing for mathematical realism on the basis of Field’s explanationist version of the Quine–Putnam Indispensability argument, Alan Baker has recently claimed to have found an instance of a genuine mathematical explanation of a physical phenomenon. While I agree that Baker presents a very interesting example in which mathematics plays an essential explanatory role, I show that this example, and the argument built upon it, begs the question against the mathematical nominalist.
Due to the wide array of phenomena that are of interest to them, psychologists offer highly diverse and heterogeneous types of explanations. Initially, this suggests that the question "What is psychological explanation?" has no single answer. To provide appreciation of this diversity, we begin by noting some of the more common types of explanations that psychologists provide, with particular focus on classical examples of explanations advanced in three different areas of psychology: psychophysics, physiological psychology, and information-processing psychology. To analyze (...) what is involved in these types of explanations, we consider the ways in which law-like representations of regularities and representations of mechanisms factor in psychological explanations. This consideration directs us to certain fundamental questions, e.g., "To what extent are laws necessary for psychological explanations?" and "What do psychologists have in mind when they appeal to mechanisms in explanation?" In answering such questions, it appears that laws do play important roles in psychological explanations, although most explanations in psychology appeal to accounts of mechanisms. Consequently, we provide a unifying account of what psychological explanation is. (shrink)
Batterman and Rice () argue that minimal models possess explanatory power that cannot be captured by what they call ‘common features’ approaches to explanation. Minimal models are explanatory, according to Batterman and Rice, not in virtue of accurately representing relevant features, but in virtue of answering three questions that provide a ‘story about why large classes of features are irrelevant to the explanandum phenomenon’ (, p. 356). In this article, I argue, first, that a method (the renormalization group) they (...) propose to answer the three questions cannot answer them, at least not by itself. Second, I argue that answers to the three questions are unnecessary to account for the explanatoriness of their minimal models. Finally, I argue that a common features account, what I call the ‘generalized ontic conception of explanation’, can capture the explanatoriness of minimal models. (shrink)
Molecular biologists and biochemists often use diagrams to present hypotheses. Analysis of diagrams shows that their content can be expressed with linguistic representations. Why do biologists use visual representations instead? One reason is simple comprehensibility: some diagrams present information which is readily understood from the diagram format, but which would not be comprehensible if the same information was expressed linguistically. But often diagrams are used even when concise, comprehensible linguistic alternatives are available. I explain this phenomenon by showing why diagrammatic (...) representation is especially well suited for a particular kind of explanation common in molecular biology and biochemistry: namely, functional analysis, in which a capacity of the system is explained in terms of capacities of its component parts. (shrink)
A common objection to Humeanism about natural laws is that, given Humeanism, laws cannot help explain their instances, since, given the best Humean account of laws, facts about laws are explained by facts about their instances rather than vice versa. After rejecting a recent influential reply to this objection that appeals to the distinction between scientific and metaphysical explanation, I will argue that the objection fails by failing to distinguish between two types of facts, only one of which Humeans (...) should regard as laws. I will then conclude by rebutting a variant of this objection that appeals to a principle of metaphysical explanation recently put forward by Kit Fine. (shrink)