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. (shrink)
It is often presumed that the laws of nature have special significance for scientific reasoning. But the laws' distinctive roles have proven notoriously difficult to identify--leading some philosophers to question if they hold such roles at all. This study offers original accounts of the roles that natural laws play in connection with counterfactual conditionals, inductive projections, and scientific explanations, and of what the laws must be in order for them to be capable of playing these roles. Particular attention is given (...) to laws of special sciences, levels of scientific explanation, natural kinds, ceteris-paribus clauses, and physically necessary non-laws. (shrink)
Not all scientific explanations work by describing causal connections between events or the world's overall causal structure. In addition, mathematicians regard some proofs as explaining why the theorems being proved do in fact hold. This book proposes new philosophical accounts of many kinds of non-causal explanations in science and mathematics.
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)
Ceteris-paribus clauses are nothing to worry about; a ceteris-paribus qualifier is not poisonously indeterminate in meaning. Ceteris-paribus laws teach us that a law need not be associated straightforwardly with a regularity in the manner demanded by regularity analyses of law and analyses of laws as relations among universals. This lesson enables us to understand the sense in which the laws of nature would have been no different under various counterfactual suppositions -- a feature even of those laws that involve no (...) ceteris-paribus qualification and are actually associated with exceptionless regularities. Ceteris-paribus generalizations of an 'inexact science' qualify as laws of that science in virtue of their distinctive relation to counterfactuals: they form a set that is stable for the purposes of that field. The stability of an inexact science's laws may involve their remaining reliable even under certain counterfactual suppositions violating fundamental laws of physics. The ceteris-paribus laws of an inexact science may thus possess a kind of necessity lacking in the fundamental laws of physics. A nomological explanation supplied by an inexact science would then be irreducible to an explanation of the same phenomenon at the level of fundamental physics. Island biogeography is used to illustrate how a special science could be autonomous in this manner. (shrink)
Humean accounts of natural lawhood have often been criticized as unable to account for the laws’ characteristic explanatory power in science. Loewer has replied that these criticisms fail to distinguish grounding explanations from scientific explanations. Lange has replied by arguing that grounding explanations and scientific explanations are linked by a transitivity principle, which can be used to argue that Humean accounts of natural law violate the prohibition on self-explanation. Lange’s argument has been sharply criticized by Hicks and van Elswyk, Marshall, (...) and Miller. This paper shows how Lange’s argument can withstand these criticisms once the transitivity principle and the prohibition on self-explanation are properly refined. The transitivity principle should be refined to accommodate contrasts in the explanans and explanandum. The prohibition on self-explanation should be refined so that it precludes a given fact p from helping to explain why some other fact q helps to explain why p. In this way, the transitivity principle avoids having counterintuitive consequences in cases involving macrostates having multiple possible microrealizations. The transitivity principle is perfectly compatible with the irreducibility of macroexplanations to microexplanations and with the diversity of the relations that can underwrite scientific explanations. (shrink)
Unlike explanation in science, explanation in mathematics has received relatively scant attention from philosophers. Whereas there are canonical examples of scientific explanations, there are few examples that have become widely accepted as exhibiting the distinction between mathematical proofs that explain why some mathematical theorem holds and proofs that merely prove that the theorem holds without revealing the reason why it holds. This essay offers some examples of proofs that mathematicians have considered explanatory, and it argues that these examples suggest a (...) particular account of explanation in mathematics. The essay compares its account to Steiner's and Kitcher's. Among the topics that arise are proofs that exploit symmetries, mathematical coincidences, brute-force proofs, simplicity in mathematics, merely clever proofs, and proofs that unify what other proofs treat as separate cases. (shrink)
Symmetry principles are commonly said to explain conservation laws—and were so employed even by Lagrange and Hamilton, long before Noether's theorem. But within a Hamiltonian framework, the conservation laws likewise entail the symmetries. Why, then, are symmetries explanatorily prior to conservation laws? I explain how the relation between ordinary (i.e., first-order) laws and the facts they govern (a relation involving counterfactuals) may be reproduced one level higher: as a relation between symmetries and the ordinary laws they govern. In that event, (...) symmetries are meta-laws; they are not mere byproducts of the dynamical and force laws. Symmetries then explain conservation laws whereas conservation laws lack the modal status to explain symmetries. I elaborate the variety of natural necessity that meta-laws would possess. Proposed metaphysical accounts of natural law should aim to accommodate the distinction between meta-laws and mere byproducts of the laws just as they must accommodate the distinction between laws and accidents. (shrink)
Fine and Rosen have argued that normative necessity is distinct from and weaker than metaphysical necessity. The first aim of this paper is to specify what it would take for this view to be true—that is, what normative necessity would have to be like. The author argues that in order for normative necessity to be weaker than metaphysical necessity, the metaphysical necessities must all be preserved under every counterfactual antecedent with which they are all collectively logically consistent—even when their preservation (...) requires that a normative necessity fail to be preserved. By exhibiting some examples that fail to display this pattern of counterfactual invariance, the author argues against the view that normative necessity is weaker than metaphysical necessity. To give this argument is the second aim of this paper. (shrink)
Among the niftiest arguments for scientific anti-realism is the ‘pessimistic induction’ (also sometimes called ‘the disastrous historical meta-induction’). Although various versions of this argument differ in their details (see, for example, Poincare 1952: 160, Putnam 1978: 25, and Laudan 1981), the argument generally begins by recalling the many scientific theories that posit unobservable entities and that at one time or another were widely accepted. The anti-realist then argues that when these old theories were accepted, the evidence for them was quite (...) persuasive – roughly as compelling as our current evidence is for our best scientific theories positing various unobservable entities. Nevertheless, the anti-realist argues, most of these old theories turned out to be incorrect in the unobservables they posited. Therefore, the anti-realist concludes that with regard to the theories we currently accept, we should believe that probably, most of them are likewise incorrect in the unobservable entities they posit. (This argument appeals to what our best current theories say about unobservables in order to show that the entities posited by some earlier theory are not real. So the argument takes the form of a reductio of the view that the apparent success of some scientific theory justifies our believing in its accuracy regarding unobservables.) Of course, this argument has been criticized on many grounds. Some have argued, for instance, that the scientific theories we currently accept are much better supported than were earlier scientific theories at the time they were accepted. In addition, some have argued that many scientific theories accepted justly in the past were in fact accurate.. (shrink)
Hempel and Giere contend that the existence of provisos poses grave difficulties for any regularity account of physical law. However, Hempel and Giere rely upon a mistaken conception of the way in which statements acquire their content. By correcting this mistake, I remove the problem Hempel and Giere identify but reveal a different problem that provisos pose for a regularity account — indeed, for any account of physical law according to which the state of affairs described by a law-statement presupposes (...) a Humean regularity. These considerations suggest a normative analysis of law-statements. On this view, law-statements are not distinguished from accidental generalizations by the kind of Humean regularities they describe because a law-statement need not describe any Humean regularity. Rather, a law-statement says that in certain contexts, one ought to regard the assertion of a given type of claim, if made with justification, as a proper way to justify a claim of a certain other kind. (shrink)
Many philosophers have believed that the laws of nature differ from the accidental truths in their invariance under counterfactual perturbations. Roughly speaking, the laws would still have held had q been the case, for any q that is consistent with the laws. (Trivially, no accident would still have held under every such counterfactual supposition.) The main problem with this slogan (even if it is true) is that it uses the laws themselves to delimit qs range. I present a means of (...) distinguishing the laws (and their logical consequences) from the accidents, in terms of their range of invariance under counterfactual antecedents, that does not appeal to physical modalities (or any cognate notion) in delimiting the relevant range of counterfactual perturbations. I then argue that this approach explicates the sense in which the laws possess a kind of necessity. (shrink)
Batterman and Rice offer an account of “minimal model explanations” and argue against “common features accounts” of those explanations. This paper offers some objections to their proposals and arguments. It argues that their proposal cannot account for the apparent explanatory asymmetry of minimal model explanations. It argues that their account threatens ultimately to collapse into a “common features account.” Finally, it argues against their motivation for thinking that an explanation appealing to “common features” would have to explain the common features’ (...) own prevalence. (shrink)
Philosophers who regard some mathematical proofs as explaining why theorems hold, and others as merely proving that they do hold, disagree sharply about the explanatory value of proofs by mathematical induction. I offer an argument that aims to resolve this conflict of intuitions without making any controversial presuppositions about what mathematical explanations would be.
In “Tense and Reality”, Kit Fine () proposed a novel way to think about realism about tense in the metaphysics of time. In particular, he explored two non-standard forms of realism about tense, arguing that they are to be preferred over standard forms of realism. In the process of defending his own preferred view, fragmentalism, he proposed a fragmentalist interpretation of the special theory of relativity, which will be our focus in this paper. After presenting Fine's position, we will raise (...) a problem for his fragmentalist interpretation of STR. We will argue that Fine's view is in tension with the proper explanation of why various facts obtain. We will then consider whether similar considerations also speak against fragmentalism in domains other than STR, notably fragmentalism about tense. (shrink)
This paper argues that in at least some cases, one proof of a given theorem is deeper than another by virtue of supplying a deeper explanation of the theorem — that is, a deeper account of why the theorem holds. There are cases of scientific depth that also involve a common abstract structure explaining a similarity between two otherwise unrelated phenomena, making their similarity no coincidence and purchasing depth by answering why questions that separate, dissimilar explanations of the two phenomena (...) cannot correctly answer. The connections between explanation, depth, unification, power, and coincidence in mathematics and science are compared. (shrink)
Scientific essentialism aims to account for the natural laws' special capacity to support counterfactuals. I argue that scientific essentialism can do so only by resorting to devices that are just as ad hoc as those that essentialists accuse Humean regularity theories of employing. I conclude by offering an account of the laws' distinctive relation to counterfactuals that portrays laws as contingent but nevertheless distinct from accidents by virtue of possessing a genuine variety of necessity.
A conservation law in physics can be either a constraint on the kinds of interaction there could be or a coincidence of the kinds of interactions there actually are. This is an important, unjustly neglected distinction. Only if a conservation law constrains the possible kinds of interaction can a derivation from it constitute a scientific explanation despite failing to describe the causal/mechanical details behind the result derived. This conception of the relation between “bottom-up” scientific explanations and one kind of “top-down” (...) scientific explanation is motivated by several examples from classical and modern physics. (shrink)
Ceteris-paribus clauses are nothing to worry about; aceteris-paribus qualifier is not poisonously indeterminate in meaning. Ceteris-paribus laws teach us that a law need not be associated straightforwardly with a regularity in the manner demanded by regularity analyses of law and analyses of laws as relations among universals. This lesson enables us to understand the sense in which the laws of nature would have been no different under various counterfactual suppositions — a feature even of those laws that involve no ceteris-paribus (...) qualification and are actually associated with exceptionless regularities. Ceteris-paribus generalizations of an‘inexact science’ qualify as laws of that science in virtue of their distinctive relation to counterfactuals: they form a set that is stable for the purposes of that field. The stability of an inexact science's laws may involve their remaining reliable even under certain counterfactual suppositions violating fundamental laws of physics. The ceteris-paribus laws of an inexact science may thus possess a kind of necessity lacking in the fundamental laws of physics. A nomological explanation supplied by an inexact science would then be irreducible to an explanation of the same phenomenon at the level of fundamental physics. Island biogeography is used to illustrate how a special science could be autonomous in this manner. (shrink)
Explanation in mathematics has recently attracted increased attention from philosophers. The central issue is taken to be how to distinguish between two types of mathematical proofs: those that explain why what they prove is true and those that merely prove theorems without explaining why they are true. This way of framing the issue neglects the possibility of mathematical explanations that are not proofs at all. This paper addresses what it would take for a non-proof to explain. The paper focuses on (...) a particular example of an explanatory non-proof: an argument that mathematicians regard as explaining why a given theorem holds regarding the derivative of an infinite sum of differentiable functions. The paper contrasts this explanatory non-proof with various non-explanatory proofs of the same theorem. The paper offers an account of what makes the given non-proof explanatory. This account is motivated by investigating the difficulties that arise when we try to extend Mark Steiner’s influential account of explanatory proofs to cover this explanatory non-proof. (shrink)
Rosenberg has recently argued that explanations supplied by (what he calls) functional biology are mere promissory notes for macromolecular adaptive explanations. Rosenberg's arguments currently constitute one of the most substantial challenges to the autonomy, irreducibility, and indispensability of the explanations supplied by functional biology. My responses to Rosenberg's arguments will generate a novel account of the autonomy of functional biology. This account will turn on the relations between counterfactuals, scientific explanations, and natural laws. Crucially, in their treatment of the laws' (...) relation to counterfactuals, Rosenberg's arguments beg the question against the autonomy of functional biology. This relation is considerably more subtle than is suggested by familiar slogans such as Laws support counterfactuals; accidents don't. (shrink)
I identify the special sort of stability (invariance, resilience, etc.) that distinguishes laws from accidental truths. Although an accident can have a certain invariance under counterfactual suppositions, there is no continuum between laws and accidents here; a law's invariance is different in kind, not in degree, from an accident's. (In particular, a law's range of invariance is not "broader"--at least in the most straightforward sense.) The stability distinctive of the laws is used to explicate what it would mean for there (...) to be multiple grades (or degrees) of physical necessity. Whether there are is for science to discover. (shrink)
Why do forces compose according to the parallelogram of forces? This question has been controversial; it is one episode in a longstanding, fundamental dispute regarding which facts are not to be explained dynamically. If the parallelogram law is explained statically, then the laws of statics are separate from and “transcend” the laws of dynamics. Alternatively, if the parallelogram law is explained dynamically, then statical laws become mere corollaries to the dynamical laws. I shall attempt to trace the history of this (...) controversy in order to identify what it would be for one or the other of these rival views to be correct. I shall argue that various familiar accounts of natural law not only make it difficult to see what the point of this dispute could have been, but also improperly foreclose some serious scientific options. I will sketch an alternative account of laws that helps us to understand what this dispute was all about. (shrink)
This paper analyzes the logical truths as (very roughly) those truths that would still have been true under a certain range of counterfactual perturbations.What’s nice is that the relevant range is characterized without relying (overtly, at least) upon the notion of logical truth. This approach suggests a conception of necessity that explains what the different varieties of necessity (logical, physical, etc.) have in common, in virtue of which they are all varieties of necessity. However, this approach places the counterfactual conditionals (...) in an unfamiliar foundational role. (shrink)
Sober 2011 argues that, contrary to Hume, some causal statements can be known a priori to be true?notably, some ?would promote? statements figuring in causal models of natural selection. We find Sober's argument unconvincing. We regard the Humean thesis as denying that causal explanations contain any a priori knowable statements specifying certain features of events to be causally relevant. We argue that not every ?would promote? statement is genuinely causal, and we suggest that Sober has not shown that his examples (...) of ?would promote? statements manage to achieve a priori status without sacrificing their causal character. (shrink)
After reviewing several failed arguments that laws cannot change, I use the laws' special relation to counterfactuals to show how temporary laws would have to differ from eternal but time-dependent laws. Then I argue that temporary laws are impossible and that neither Lewis's nor Armstrong's analyses of law nicely accounts for the laws' immutability. *Received September 2006; revised September 2007. ‡Many thanks to John Roberts and John Carroll for valuable comments on earlier drafts, as well as to several anonymous referees (...) for their good suggestions. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of North Carolina, CB #3125, Caldwell Hall, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3125; e-mail: email@example.com. (shrink)
has offered a lovely example to motivate the intuition that a successful prediction has a kind of confirmatory significance that an accommodation lacks. This paper scrutinizes Maher's example. It argues that once the example is tweaked, the intuitive difference there between prediction and accommodation disappears. This suggests that the apparent superiority of prediction to accommodation is actually a side effect of an important difference between the hypotheses that tend to arise in each case.
This paper concerns the relation between a proof’s beauty and its explanatory power – that is, its capacity to go beyond proving a given theorem to explaining why that theorem holds. Explanatory power and beauty are among the many virtues that mathematicians value and seek in various proofs, and it is important to come to a better understanding of the relations among these virtues. Mathematical practice has long recognized that certain proofs but not others have explanatory power, and this paper (...) offers an account of what makes a proof explanatory. This account is motivated by a wide range of examples drawn from mathematical practice, and the account proposed here is compared to other accounts in the literature. The concept of a proof that explains is closely intertwined with other important concepts, such as a brute force proof, a mathematical coincidence, unification in mathematics, and natural properties. Ultimately, this paper concludes that the features of a proof that would contribute to its explanatory power would also contribute to its beauty, but that these two virtues are not the same; a beautiful proof need not be explanatory. (shrink)
Recently, biologists and computer scientists who advocate the "strong thesis of artificial life" have argued that the distinction between life and nonlife is important and that certain computer software entities could be alive in the same sense as biological entities. These arguments have been challenged by Sober (1991). I address some of the questions about the rational reconstruction of biology that are suggested by these arguments: What is the relation between life and the "signs of life"? What work (if any) (...) might the concept of "life" (over and above the "signs of life") perform in biology? What turns on scientific disputes over the utility of this concept? To defend my answers to these questions, I compare "life" to certain other concepts used in science, and I examine historical episodes in which an entity's vitality was invoked to explain certain phenomena. I try to understand how these explanations could be illuminating even though they are not accompanied by any reductive definition of "life.". (shrink)
I offer an argument regarding chances that appears to yield a dilemma: either the chances at time t must be determined by the natural laws and the history through t of instantiations of categorical properties, or the function ch(•) assigning chances need not satisfy the axioms of probability. The dilemma's first horn might seem like a remnant of determinism. On the other hand, this horn might be inspired by our best scientific theories. In addition, it is entailed by the familiar (...) view that facts about chances at t are ontologically reducible to facts about the laws and the categorical history through t. However, that laws are ontologically prior to chances stands in some tension with the view that chances are governed by laws just as categorical-property instantiations are. The dilemma's second horn entails that if chances are in fact probabilities, then this is a matter of natural law rather than logical or conceptual necessity. I conclude with a suggestion for going between the horns of the dilemma. This suggestion involves a generalization of the notion that chances evolve by conditionalization. Introduction "Chances evolve by conditionalization" How might the lawful magnitude principle be defended? A historical interlude What if chances failed to be determined by the laws and categorical facts? (shrink)
Consider a rocket consisting primarily of a chamber filled with gas that can serve as fuel, a mechanism for igniting the gas, and a valve on the left side of the chamber. Suppose that the rocket is initially at rest and then the gas is ignited. The rocket remains at rest with the high-pressure gas inside until the valve is opened. When that happens, gas escapes to the left as exhaust while the rocket accelerates to the right.A typical textbook explanation (...) of the rocket's beginning to... (shrink)
In a recent paper replying to the inductive sceptic, Samir Okasha says that the Humean argument for inductive scepticism depends on mistakenly construing inductive reasoning as based on a principle of the uniformity of nature. I dispute Okasha's argument that we are entitled to the background beliefs on which (he says) inductive reasoning depends. Furthermore, I argue that the sorts of theoretically impoverished contexts to which a uniformity-of-nature principle has traditionally been restricted are exactly the contexts relevant to the inductive (...) sceptic's argument, and (pace Okasha) are not at all remote from actual scientific practice. I discuss several scientific examples involving such contexts. (shrink)
Suppose that unobtanium-346 is a rare radioactive isotope. Consider: (1) Every Un346 atom, at its creation, decays within 7 microseconds (µs). (50%) Every Un346 atom, at its creation, has a 50% chance of decaying within 7µs. (1) and (50%) can be true together, but (1) and (50%) cannot together be laws of nature. Indeed, (50%)'s mere (non-vacuous) truth logically precludes (1)'s lawhood. A satisfactory analysis of chance and lawhood should nicely account for this relation. I shall argue first that David (...) Lewis's Humean picture accounts for this relation only by inserting this relation ‘by hand’. Next, I shall argue that this relation between law and chance also threatens a radically non-Humean picture of laws and chances. Finally, I shall offer an account of natural law that nicely explains the relation between chancy facts and deterministic laws. This explanation is not ad hoc because it derives the relation from the very same features of lawhood that account for the laws' special relation to counterfactuals and explain how the laws (unlike the accidents) possess a variety of necessity. The reason that a chancy fact such as (50%) keeps (1) from being a law, without keeping (1) from being true, is ultimately that a chancy fact constrains the subjunctive facts and (1)'s lawhood, unlike (1)'s truth, depends upon the subjunctive facts. (shrink)