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 scientificexplanation. In C. G. Hempel (Ed.), Aspects of scientificexplanation (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 scientificexplanation 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 scientificexplanation 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 scientificexplanation 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)
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 scientificexplanation. I will argue that Loewer’s reply fails because it cannot accommodate the relation between metaphysical and scientificexplanation. (...) This relation also resolves a puzzle about scientificexplanation that Hempel and Oppenheim (Philosophy of Science 15:135–75, 1948) encountered. (shrink)
The philosophical theory of scientificexplanation 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 scientificexplanation--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 scientificexplanation to the causal/mechanical model requires fundamental rethinking of basic explanatory concepts. (shrink)
This article aims to develop a new account of scientificexplanation for computer simulations. To this end, two questions are answered: what is the explanatory relation for computer simulations? And what kind of epistemic gain should be expected? For several reasons tailored to the benefits and needs of computer simulations, these questions are better answered within the unificationist model of scientificexplanation. Unlike previous efforts in the literature, I submit that the explanatory relation is between the (...) simulation model and the results of the simulation. I also argue that our epistemic gain goes beyond the unificationist account, encompassing a practical dimension as well. (shrink)
An account of scientificexplanation is presented according to which (1) scientificexplanation consists in solving “insight” problems (Metcalfe and Wiebe 1984) and (2) understanding is the result of solving such problems. The theory is pragmatic; it draws upon van Fraassen’s (1977, 1980) insights, avoids the objections to pragmatic accounts offered by Kitcher and Salmon (1987), and relates scientificexplanation directly to understanding. The theory also accommodates cases of explanatory asymmetry and intuitively legitimate rejections (...) of explanation requests. (shrink)
We argue that there is no tension between Reid's description of science and his claim that science is based on the principles of common sense. For Reid, science is rooted in common sense since it is based on the idea that fixed laws govern nature. This, however, does not contradict his view that the scientific notions of causation and explanation are fundamentally different from their common sense counterparts. After discussing these points, we dispute with Cobb's and Benbaji's interpretations (...) of Reid's views on causation and explanation. Finally, we present Reid's views from the perspective of the contemporary debate on scientificexplanation. (shrink)
In 1997, five decades after the publication of the landmark Hempel-Oppenheim article "Studies in the Logic of Explanation"(, 1970) Wesley Salmon published Causality and Explanation, a book that re-addresses the issue of scientificexplanation. He provided an overview of the basic approaches to scientificexplanation, stressed their weaknesses, and offered novel insights. However, he failed to mention Mary Hesse's approach to the topic and analyze her standpoint. This essay brings front and center Hesse's approach (...) to scientificexplanation formulated in the 1960s and argues that rereading Hesse's account one can overcome the criticisms addressed towards another influential theory of explanation that of Bas van Fraassen's. Furthermore, it could bring the traditional philosophy of science into a fruitful conversation with science and technology studies and gender studies in science, technology and medicine. (shrink)
In 1997, five decades after the publication of the landmark Hempel-Oppenheim article "Studies in the Logic of Explanation" Wesley Salmon published Causality and Explanation, a book that re-addresses the issue of scientificexplanation. He provided an overview of the basic approaches to scientificexplanation, stressed their weaknesses, and offered novel insights. However, he failed to mention Mary Hesse's approach to the topic and analyze her standpoint. This essay brings front and center Hesse's approach to (...)scientificexplanation formulated in the 1960s and argues that rereading Hesse's account one can overcome the criticisms addressed towards another influential theory of explanation that of Bas van Fraassen's. Furthermore, it could bring the traditional philosophy of science into a fruitful conversation with science and technology studies and gender studies in science, technology and medicine. (shrink)
When scientist investigate why things happen, they aim at giving an explanation. But what does a scientificexplanation look like? In the first chapter (Theories of ScientificExplanation) of this book, the milestones in the debate on how to characterize scientific explanations are exposed. The second chapter (How to Study ScientificExplanation?) scrutinizes the working-method of three important philosophers of explanation, Carl Hempel, Philip Kitcher and Wesley Salmon and shows what went (...) wrong. Next, it is the responsibility of current philosophers of explanation to go on where Hempel, Kitcher and Salmon failed. However, we should go on in a clever way. We call this clever way the pragmatic approach to scientificexplanation and clarify briefly what this approach consists in. The third chapter (A Toolbox for Describing and Evaluating Explanatory Practices) elaborates the pragmatic approach by presenting a toolbox for analysing scientificexplanation. In the last chapter (Examples of Descriptions and Evaluations of Explanatory Practices) the approach is illustrated with real-life examples of scientists aiming at explaining. (shrink)
This paper examines the status of explanation in the natural sciences and ethics by focusing on the important role of empirical evidence and theoretical properties. As a means of exploring these issues, the debate between Nicholas Sturgeon and Gilbert Harman will serve as a central point in the discussion, since Sturgeon has provided several arguments against Harman's attempt to draw a distinction between scientific and moral explanation. Specifically, Sturgeon holds that the special function of observation and testing, (...) which we commonly believe to be relevant only in science, can be applied to moral cases with equal justification. Overall, Sturgeon's arguments will be exposed as deficient in several respects, which is an aspect of this debate often overlooked. (shrink)
Empirical studies persistently indicate that the usual explanatory strategies used in quantum mechanics (QM) instruction fail, in general, to yield understanding. In this study we propose an instructional intervention, which (a) incorporates into its subject matter a critical comparison of QM scientific content with the fundamental epistemological and ontological commitments of the prominent philosophical theories of explanation - a weak form of which we meet in QM teaching; (b) illuminates the reasons of their failure; and (c) implements an (...) explanatory strategy highly inspired by the epistemological pathways through which, during the birth-process of QM, science has gradually reached understanding. This strategy, an inherent element of which is the meta-cognitive and meta-scientific thinking, aims at leading learners not only to an essential understanding of QM worldview, but to a deep insight into the 'Nature of Science' as well. (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.
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.
In this paper, I aim to provide access to the current debate on non-causal explanations in philosophy of science. I will first present examples of non-causal explanations in the sciences. Then, I will outline three alternative approaches to non-causal explanations – that is, causal reductionism, pluralism, and monism – and, corresponding to these three approaches, different strategies for distinguishing between causal and non-causal explanation. Finally, I will raise questions for future research on non-causal explanations.
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)
Wesley Salmon’s version of the ontic conception of explanation is a main historical root of contemporary work on mechanistic explanation. This paper examines and critiques the philosophical merits of Salmon’s version, and argues that his conception’s most fundamental construct is either fundamentally obscure, or else reduces to a non-ontic conception of explanation. Either way, the ontic conception is a misconception.
The aim of this paper is to explore the ways in which Axiomatic Reconstructions of Quantum Theory in terms of Information-Theoretic principles can contribute to explaining and understanding quantum phenomena, as well as to study their explanatory limitations. This is achieved in part by offering an account of the kind of explanation that axiomatic reconstructions of Quantum Theory provide, and re-evaluating the epistemic status of the program in light of this explanation. As illustrative case studies, I take Clifton's, (...) Bub's and Halvorson's characterization theorem and Popescu's and Rohrlich's toy models, and their explanatory contribution with respect to quantum nonlocality. On the one hand, I argue that ARQITs can aspire to provide genuine explanations of quantum nonlocality. On the other hand, I argue that such explanations cannot rule out a mechanical quantum theory. (shrink)
A prominent approach to scientificexplanation and modeling claims that for a model to provide an explanation it must accurately represent at least some of the actual causes in the event's causal history. In this paper, I argue that many optimality explanations present a serious challenge to this causal approach. I contend that many optimality models provide highly idealized equilibrium explanations that do not accurately represent the causes of their target system. Furthermore, in many contexts, it is (...) in virtue of their independence of causes that optimality models are able to provide a better explanation than competing causal models. Consequently, our account of explanation and modeling must expand beyond the causal approach. (shrink)
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)
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)
Moral philosophers are, among other things, in the business of constructing moral theories. And moral theories are, among other things, supposed to explain moral phenomena. Consequently, one’s views about the nature of moral explanation will influence the kinds of moral theories one is willing to countenance. Many moral philosophers are (explicitly or implicitly) committed to a deductive model of explanation. As I see it, this commitment lies at the heart of the current debate between moral particularists and moral (...) generalists. In this paper I argue that we have good reasons to give up this commitment. In fact, I show that an examination of the literature on scientificexplanation reveals that we are used to, and comfortable with, non-deductive explanations in almost all areas of inquiry. As a result, I argue that we have reason to believe that moral explanations need not be grounded in exceptionless moral principles. (shrink)
Scientificexplanation is a perennial topic in philosophy of science, but the literature has fragmented into specialized discussions in different scientific disciplines. An increasing attention to scientific practice by philosophers is (in part) responsible for this fragmentation and has put pressure on criteria of adequacy for philosophical accounts of explanation, usually demanding some form of pluralism. This commentary examines the arguments offered by Fagan and Woody with respect to explanation and understanding in scientific (...) practice. I begin by scrutinizing Fagan's concept of collaborative explanation, highlighting its distinctive advantages and expressing concern about several of its assumptions. Then I analyze Woody's attempt to reorient discussions of scientificexplanation around functional considerations, elaborating on the wider implications of this methodological recommendation. I conclude with reflections on synergies and tensions that emerge when the two papers are juxtaposed and how these draw attention to critical issues that confront ongoing philosophical analyses of scientificexplanation. (shrink)
The articulation of an overarching account of scientificexplanation has long been a central preoccupation for the philosophers of science. Although a while ago the literature was dominated by two approaches—a causal account and a unificationist account—today the consensus seems to be that the causal account has won. In this paper, I challenge this consensus and attempt to revive unificationism. More specifically, I aim to accomplish three goals. First, I add new criticisms to the standard anti-unificationist arguments, in (...) order to motivate the need for a revision of the doctrine. Second, and most importantly, I sketch such a revised version. Then I argue that, contrary to widespread belief, the causal account and this revised unificationist account of explanation are compatible. Moreover, I also maintain that the unificationist account has priority, since a most satisfactory theory of explanation can be obtained by incorporating the causal account, as a sub-component of the unificationist account. The driving force behind this reevaluation of the received view in the philosophy of explanation is a reconsideration of the role of scientific understanding. (shrink)
There are three main approaches to scientificexplanation in the philosophical literature. The unification approach claims that science explains by fitting the particular facts and events within a general theoretical framework. The mechanistic approach claims that science explains by identifying mechanisms. According to the manipulationist approach an explanation ought to be such that it can be used to answer a “what-if-things-had-been-different question.” The article examines whether these three approaches are compatible or not in the case of the (...) social sciences, and it concludes by defending explanatory pluralism. (shrink)
The problems that exist in relating quantum mechanical phenomena to classical concepts like properties, causes, or entities like particles or waves are well-known and still open to question, so that there is not yet an agreement on what kind of metaphysics lies at the foundations of quantum mechanics. However, physicists constantly use the formal resources of quantum mechanics in order to explain quantum phenomena. The structural account of explanation, therefore, tries to account for this kind of mathematical explanation (...) in physics, and hinges on the following claims: i) scientific models are central in scientificexplanation; ii) in some cases the relevant information for the explanation/understanding of a phenomenon P consists in the sole structural properties of the (models displayed by the) theory; iii) in these cases, the interpretation of the formalism in terms of a categorial framework is unessential for the explanation of P and a mathematical model can be at the base of an objective and effective scientificexplanation. The present paper will carry a reflection about some issues arising from R.I.G. Hughes and Robert Clifton’s works in the attempt to outline some details of structural explanation. (shrink)
This paper investigates the working-method of three important philosophers of explanation: Carl Hempel, Philip Kitcher, and Wesley Salmon. We argue that they do three things: construct an explication in the sense of Carnap, which then is used as a tool to make descriptive and normative claims about the explanatory practice of scientists. We also show that they did well with respect to, but that they failed to give arguments for their descriptive and normative claims. We think it is the (...) responsibility of current philosophers of explanation to go on where Hempel, Kitcher, and Salmon failed. However, we should go on in a clever way. We call this clever way the “pragmatic approach to scientificexplanation.‘ We clarify what this approach consists in and defend it. (shrink)
This paper describes the development of theories of scientificexplanation since Hempel's earliest models in the 1940ies. It focuses on deductive and probabilistic whyexplanations and their main problems: lawlikeness, explanation-prediction asymmetries, causality, deductive and probabilistic relevance, maximal specifity and homogenity, the height of the probability value. For all of these topic the paper explains the most important approaches as well as their criticism, including the author's own accounts. Three main theses of this paper are: (1) Both deductive (...) and probabilistic explanations are important in science, not reducible to each other. (2) One must distinguish between (cause giving) explanations and (reason giving) justifications and predictions. (3) The adequacy of deductive as well as probabilistic explanations is relative to a pragmatically given background knowledge-which does not exclude, however, the possibility of purely semantic models. (shrink)
Philosophers agree that scientific explanations aim to produce understanding, and that good ones succeed in this aim. But few seriously consider what understanding is, or what the cues are when we have it. If it is a psychological state or process, describing its specific nature is the job of psychological theorizing. This article examines the role of understanding in scientificexplanation. It warns that the seductive, phenomenological sense of understanding is often, but mistakenly, viewed as a cue (...) of genuine understanding. The article closes with a discussion of several new paths of research that tie the psychology of scientificexplanation to cognate notions of learning, testimony, and understanding. (shrink)
Effective field theories have been a very popular tool in quantum physics for almost two decades. And there are good reasons for this. I will argue that effective field theories share many of the advantages of both fundamental theories and phenomenological models, while avoiding their respective shortcomings. They are, for example, flexible enough to cover a wide range of phenomena, and concrete enough to provide a detailed story of the specific mechanisms at work at a given energy scale. So will (...) all of physics eventually converge on effective field theories? This paper argues that good scientific research can be characterised by a fruitful interaction between fundamental theories, phenomenological models and effective field theories. All of them have their appropriate functions in the research process, and all of them are indispensable. They complement each other and hang together in a coherent way which I shall characterise in some detail. To illustrate all this I will present a case study from nuclear and particle physics. The resulting view about scientific theorising is inherently pluralistic, and has implications for the debates about reductionism and scientificexplanation. (shrink)
As Aristotle stated, scientificexplanation is based on deductive argument--yet, Wesley C. Salmon points out, not all deductive arguments are qualified explanations. The validity of the explanation must itself be examined. _Four Decades of Scientific Explanation_ provides a comprehensive account of the developments in scientificexplanation that transpired in the last four decades of the twentieth century. It continues to stand as the most comprehensive treatment of the writings on the subject during these years. (...) Building on the historic 1948 essay by Carl G. Hempel and Paul Oppenheim, "Studies in the Logic of Explanation,” which introduced the deductive-nomological model on which most work on scientificexplanation was based for the following four decades, Salmon goes beyond this model's inherent basis of describing empirical knowledge to tells us “not only _what,_ but also _why_.” Salmon examines the predominant models in chronological order and describes their development, refinement, and criticism or rejection. _Four Decades of Scientific Explanation_ underscores the need for a consensus of approach and ongoing evaluations of methodology in scientificexplanation, with the goal of providing a better understanding of natural phenomena. (shrink)
Van Fraassen (1980) and Winther (2009) claim that we can explain phenomena in terms of scientific theories without believing that they are true. I argue that we ought to believe that they are true in order to use them to explain and understand phenomena. A scientific antirealist who believes that scientific theories are merely empirically adequate cannot use them to explain or to understand phenomena. The mere belief that they are empirically adequate produces neither explanation nor (...) understanding of phenomena. Explanation and understanding are the benefits of science only a scientific realist is entitled to. (shrink)
Scientific explanations must bear the proper relationship to the world: they must depict what, out in the world, is responsible for the explanandum. But explanations must also bear the proper relationship to their audience: they must be able to create human understanding. With few exceptions, philosophical accounts of explanation either ignore entirely the relationship between explanations and their audience or else demote this consideration to an ancillary role. In contrast, I argue that considering an explanation’s communicative role (...) is crucial to any satisfactory account of explanation. (shrink)
Issues concerning scientificexplanation have been a focus of philosophical attention from Pre- Socratic times through the modern period. However, recent discussion really begins with the development of the Deductive-Nomological (DN) model. This model has had many advocates (including Popper 1935, 1959, Braithwaite 1953, Gardiner, 1959, Nagel 1961) but unquestionably the most detailed and influential statement is due to Carl Hempel (Hempel 1942, 1965, and Hempel & Oppenheim 1948). These papers and the reaction to them have structured subsequent (...) discussion concerning scientificexplanation to an extraordinary degree. After some general remarks by way of background and orientation (Section 1), this entry describes the DN model and its extensions, and then turns to some well-known objections (Section 2). It next describes a variety of subsequent attempts to develop alternative models of explanation, including Wesley Salmon's Statistical Relevance (Section 3) and Causal Mechanical (Section 4) models and the Unificationist models due to Michael Friedman and Philip Kitcher (Section 5). Section 6 provides a summary and discusses directions for future work. (shrink)
We present a logically detailed case-study of explanation and prediction in Newtonian mechanics. The case in question is that of a planet's elliptical orbit in the Sun's gravitational field. Care is taken to distinguish the respective contributions of the mathematics that is being applied, and of the empirical hypotheses that receive a mathematical formulation. This enables one to appreciate how in this case the overall logical structure of scientificexplanation and prediction is exactly in accordance with the (...) hypotheticodeductive model. (shrink)
By contrasting three general conceptions of scientificexplanation, this paper seeks to clarify the explanandum and to exhibit the fundamental philosophical issues involved in the project of explicating scientificexplanation. The three conceptions--epistemic, modal, and ontic--have both historical and contemporary importance. In the context of Laplacian determinism, they do not seem importantly distinct, but in the context of irreducibly statistical explanations, the three are seen to diverge sharply. The paper argues for a causal/mechanical version of the (...) ontic conception, and concludes by exhibiting some striking consequences of this approach. (shrink)
This paper investigates the working-method of three important philosophers of explanation: Carl Hempel, Philip Kitcher and Wesley Salmon. We argue that they do three things: construct an explication in the sense of Carnap, which then is used as a tool to make descriptive and normative claims about the explanatory practice of scientists. We also show that they did well with respect to, but that they failed to give arguments for their descriptive and normative claims. We think it is the (...) responsibility of current philosophers of explanation to go on where Hempel, Kitcher and Salmon failed. However, we should go on in a clever way. We call this clever way the “pragmatic approach to scientificexplanation.” We clarify what this approach consists in and defend it. (shrink)
In this paper, I consider a variety of objections against the covering-law model of scientificexplanation, show that Aristotle was already aware of them and had solutions for them, and argue that these solutions are correct. These solutions involve the notions of nonHumean causality and of essential properties. There are a great many familiar objections, both methodological and epistemological, to introducing these concepts into the methodology of science, but I show that these objections are based upon misunderstandings of (...) these concepts. (shrink)
This chapter presents a historical study of how science has developed and of how philosophical theories of many sorts – philosophy of science, theory of the understanding, and philosophical theology – both enable and constrain certain lines of development in scientific practice. Its topic is change in the legitimacy or acceptability of scientificexplanation that invokes purposes, or ends; specifically in the argument from design, in the natural science field of physico-theology, around the start of the eighteenth (...) century. ... The context that produced physico-theology was clearly religious and political. It is unsurprising that a large body of Protestant intellectuals well-placed in a relatively peaceful society with a strong tradition of open speech, would develop links between science and critical discussion of both divinity and the Bible. There were also bounds to the discussion, as Newton, who chose to sit on the sidelines, knew well. Many others on Europe’s continent lived much more intimately with religious division as well as the reminder, in 1633, of Galileo’s failure to arrange a peaceable arrangement between science and religion. These aspects of the rise of physico-theology have not been the focus of this chapter, which has surveyed the philosophical and social origins found in the English context. Science, philosophy of science and other English philosophical currents – most particularly the theory of ideas and understanding that we are familiar with in its later development by John Locke – were formative for a field that might alternatively have been called ‘empirical natural theology.’ Prior shifts in religious sensibility that emptied the Book of Nature of much of its content also prepared the ground. Other philosophical and theological currents not discussed here – most notably theories of divine agency and predestination – and other philosophical trends – the rise of Spinoza’s challenge to such natural theology on the continent – also had both shaping and limiting influences upon the field. Finally, philosophers, including natural philosophers, did much more to promote physico-theology than just write about it: Boyle in particular provided a very important launch pad for the further development of an already healthy tradition of natural theology with his named lectureship, which drew the interest of others in the Royal Society, most notably Isaac Newton, and which spawned two of the most influential physico-theological tracts shortly before and shortly after the turn of the eighteenth century. (shrink)
This paper discusses the D-N model of scientificexplanation. It is suggested that explanation is a part of assertive discourse where certain principles must be observed. Then use is made of the relation between the informative content and logical content of a sentence (as shown, for instance, by Popper) to draw some of the conditions necessary for a sound model. It is claimed that the conditions of the model proposed in the present paper exhaust the insights of (...) the papers in the literature, solve the difficulties encountered by other authors, but have some damaging consequences on the D-N model of scientificexplanation. (shrink)
In this paper (which is, at best, a work in progress), I discuss different modes of scientificexplanation identified by philosophers (Hempel, Salmon, Kitcher, Friedman, Hughes) and examine how well or badly they capture the "explanations" of phenomena that modern quantum theory provides. I tentatively conclude that quantum explanation is best seen as "structural explanation", and spell out in detail how this works in the case of explaining vacuum correlations. Problems and prospects for structural explanation (...) in quantum theory are also discussed. (shrink)
John Dewey provided a robust and thorough conception of scientificexplanation within his philosophical writing. I provide an exegesis of Dewey's concept of scientificexplanation and argue that this concept is important to contemporary philosophy of science for at least two reasons. First, Dewey's conception of scientificexplanation avoids the reification of science as an entity separated from practical experience. Second, Dewey supplants the realist-antirealist debate within the philosophical literature concerning explanation, thus moving (...) us beyond the current stalemate within philosophy of science. (shrink)
A "MIRACLE" IS AN OBSERVABLE EVENT INEXPLICABLE BY SCIENCE BUT EXPLICABLE IN TERMS OF SOME SUPERNATURAL AGENT. UNLESS ALL TALK OF SUPERNATURAL AGENCY IS MEANINGLESS, THIS CONCEPT SUCCESSFULLY DENOTES A (PERHAPS EMPTY) CLASS. DESPITE THE FALSIFIABILITY OF SCIENCE, IT MIGHT SOMETIMES BE REASONABLE TO DENY THE POSSIBILITY OF ANY FUTURE SCIENTIFICEXPLANATION OF A GIVEN EVENT. BUT THAT EVENT COULD BE CLASSIFIED AS A "MIRACLE" ONLY IF IT ACCORDED WITH CERTAIN MORAL AND THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE PARTICULAR SUPERNATURAL (...) BEING SUPPOSED ACTIVE. VARIOUS HYPOTHETICAL AGENTS MAY BE SUGGESTED; WHICH - IF ANY - OF THESE AGENTS MIGHT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE EVENT CAN BE DECIDED ONLY BY A CONCEPTUAL COMPARISON OF THE POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVES. THUS THE CLASSIFICATION OF AN EVENT AS A "MIRACLE" IS NOT A MATTER OF WHIM, BUT DEPENDS UPON THE PARTICULAR CONCEPT OF THE SUPERNATURAL CONCERNED. (shrink)
The paper is divided into three parts. The first part identifies one of the main problems with many current accounts of the notion of explanation: The unreasonable demand, proposed by Michael Scriven and subsequently adopted by many philosophers, that we must square our account of scientificexplanation to our intuitions about explanations in everyday contexts. It is first pointed out that the failure to provide a satisfactory account is not endemic to the notion of explanation, i.e. (...) it is widespread amongst notions. Many of the notions considered in philosophical contexts originate and have a function in broader everyday contexts. Indeed, in evaluating accounts of these notions we rely on intuitions that originate in these broader contexts. Yet, we rarely seem to question the appropriateness of these intuitions in more restricted, in this case scientific, contexts. I argue against this complacency, pointing out that our intuitions can often be inconsistent. (shrink)
ABSTRACT: Qualia, the subjectively known qualities of conscious experience, are judged by many philosophers and scientists to lie beyond the domain of scientificexplanation, thus making the conscious mind partly incomprehensible to the objective physical sciences. Some, like Kripke and Chalmers, employ modal logic to argue that explanations of qualia are impossible in principle. I argue that there already exist perfectly normal scientific explanations of qualia, and rebut the arguments of those who deny this possibility.
Several philosophers believe that with phenomenal consciousness and neurobiological properties, there will always be some kind of epistemic gap between the two that will lead to a corresponding ontological gap. In order to address those who espouse this hard line position, I will first briefly examine certain aspects of the history of scientificexplanation. I will put forth a positive thesis that there is what I call a progressivism to scientific explanations in certain fields, where kinds of (...) explanations tend to advance or progress, somewhat analogous to how overall scientific theories also significantly advance or progress. Given the progressivism of kinds of explanations, I provide a new contention that adherents to the hard line view are not justified in making their relevant claims. While progressivism and its use against hard line views may seem intuitively obvious to some readers, I offer its first articulation and attempt to illustrate the novel virtues it brings to the table of the phenomenal consciousness debate. (shrink)
The paper discusses theories of scientificexplanation from the point of view of the norms or ideals of science they exemplify. The relationship of the adoption of these norms to metaphysical positions on determinism is explored, and means for reducing the conflict between methodological and metaphysical issues are suggested.
To be a philosopher of science means, among other things, to have an account of what scientificexplanation is, or, at the very least, to have a response to various accounts of scientificexplanation on offer from other philosophies of science while earnestly working toward what one hopes will be one’s own, original account. One presumption clearly and often lying behind such work is that science provides two kinds of knowledge. There is propositional knowledge, “knowledge that” (...) or “knowledge what,” and there is some other kind of knowledge, something beyond propositional knowledge, usually called “knowing why.” We can know that the moon will have such a phase at this or that time, that home sales will always slump following a rise in interest rates, or that probably no two snowflakes are the same shape, without knowing why the moon will have that phase, home sales will fall as interest rates rise, or no two snowflakes have the same shape. But science, so the common contemporary presumption continues, fills in the missing knowledge — it tells us why. How science does this, when it can’t, and what the nature of this sort of knowledge is are precisely the issues that separate theorists of explanation. There are, of course, deflationary views of explanation, which reduce explanation to other properties or eliminate explanation altogether , but these are a decided minority. The vast majority of the work on scientificexplanation takes itself to be addressing a certain, distinct, kind of knowledge. This is, moreover, a familiar and introductory point made in philosophical discussions of explanation. I rehearse it here because it has a role to play later, in my discussion of Carl Hempel and Paul Oppenheim’s 1948 article, “Studies in the Logic of Explanation”. (shrink)
In the course of his long development, Kant's concept of matter changed somewhat, while his concept of scientificexplanation changed considerably. Both developments achieved a coherent integration in Kant's Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Using this developmental background, the present paper argues that the Foundations should be interpreted as an attempted rational reconstruction of the mechanics of Newton and Euler. Kant attempted to do this by constructing a concept of matter that would confer a Leibnizian intelligibility on Newtonian (...) mechanics, and also accord with Kant's theories on the nature of concepts and their role in scientificexplanation. (shrink)
Michael Strevens’ Depth: An Account of ScientificExplanation is an impressive recent contribution to the philosophical literature on explanation. While clearly influenced by several of the leading theories of the later twentieth century, Strevens’ account of explanation is firmly rooted in the causal tradition. His most notable intellectual debts in this regard owe to David Lewis, Wesley Salmon and James Woodward. Still, Strevens sees the work of these theorists as flawed in important respects, and his “kairetic (...) account” of explanation is meant to provide answers to problems his predecessors left unresolved (or poorly resolved, as the case may be). Before examining Strevens’ account in detail we should identify the more significant of these problems and briefly survey the contexts in which they arose. (shrink)