In the current literature on scientific explanation unification became unfashionable in favour of causal approaches. We want to bring unification back into the picture. In this paper we demonstrate that resemblance questions do occur in scientific practice and that they cannot be properly answered without unification. Our examples show that resemblance questions about particular facts demand what we call causal network unification, while resemblance questions about regularities require what we call mechanism unification. We clarify how these types of unification relate (...) to Philip Kitcher’s account, but also to causal and mechanistic accounts of explanation. (shrink)
In the literature on scientific explanation, there is a classical distinction between explanations of facts and explanations of laws. This paper is about explanations of laws, more specifically mechanistic explanations of laws. We investigate whether providing unificatory information in mechanistic explanations of laws has a surplus value. Unificatory information is information about how the mechanism that explains the law which is our target relates to other mechanisms. We argue that providing unificatory information can lead to explanations with more explanatory power (...) and that it may lead to more strongly supported explanations. (shrink)
The periodic table is one of the best-known systems of classification in science. Because of the information it contains, it raises explanation-seeking questions. Quantum mechanical models of the behaviour of electrons may be seen as providing explanations in response to these questions. In this paper we first address the question ‘Do quantum mechanical models of atoms provide legitimate explanations?’ Because our answer is positive, our next question is ‘Are the explanations provided by quantum mechanical models of atoms mechanistic explanations?’. This (...) question is motivated by the fact that in many scientific disciplines, mechanistic explanations are abundant. Because our answer to the second question is negative, our last question is ‘What kind of explanation do quantum mechanical models of atom provide?’ By addressing these questions, we shed light on the nature of an important type of chemical explanation. (shrink)
In the literature on scientific explanation, there is a classical distinction between explanations of facts and explanations of laws. This paper is about explanations of facts. Our aim is to analyse the role of unification in explanations of this kind. We discuss five positions with respect to this role, argue for two of them and refute the three others.
This dissertation starts with a concise overview of what philosophers of science have written about unification and its role in scientific explanation during the last 50 years to provide the reader with some background knowledge. In order to bring unification back into the picture, I have followed two strategies, resulting respectively in Parts I and II of this dissertation. In Part I the idea of unification is used to refine and enrich the dominant causalmechanist and causal-interventionist accounts of scientific explanation. (...) In this part of the dissertation I bracket the classical ideas about unification: deduction and derivation. I do grant, for the sake of argument, that explanations are causal and argue that unification is important from within this causalist perspective. In Part II I continue my strategy of digging into scientific practice to find cases of ontological unification. But here I distance myself from the dominant literature that all explanations must be causal. I will investigate whether explanatory unification is possible in non-causal explanations. Part III contains some further reflections and conclusions. I will formulate my primary results, and I will elaborate on their implications for thinking about unification and explanation. The different forms of ontological unification were quite diverse. This relates to the method I have used. Throughout this dissertation the types of unification that were discussed emerged from digging into scientific practice. This philosophy-of-science-practice approach steered me towards a pluralistic view on unification and on explanation. In this dissertation I do not try to develop a new model of explanation and compare it to existing models. The aim is to show that there are important types of explanatory practice which cannot be properly analyzed if we neglect unification as a desideratum for explanations. (shrink)
In this chapter we address what we call “The-Everybody-Did-It” (TEDI) Syndrome, a symptom for collective negligence. Our main thesis is that the character of scientific communities can be evaluated morally and be found wanting in terms of moral responsibility. Even an epistemically successful scientific community can be morally responsible for consequences that were unforeseen by it and its members and that follow from policy advice given by its individual members. We motivate our account by a critical discussion of a recent (...) proposal by Heather Douglas. We offer three, related criticisms of Douglas’s account. First, she assumes that scientific fields are communicative communities. Second, in a system where the scientific community autonomously sets standards, there is a danger of self-affirming reasoning. Third, she ignores that the character of a scientific community is subject to moral evaluation. We argue that these omissions in Douglas’s theory leave it with no adequate response to TEDI Syndrome. Moreover, we deny that science ought to be characterized by unanimity of belief among its competent practitioners, this leads easily to the vices of close-mindedness and expert-overconfidence. If a scientific community wishes to avoid these vices it should create conditions for an active pluralism when it and its members aspire to the position of rational policy decision-making. (shrink)