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The Ontic Account of Scientific Explanation

In Marie I. Kaiser, Oliver R. Scholz, Daniel Plenge & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Explanation in the Special Sciences: The Case of Biology and History. Springer Verlag. pp. 27-52 (2014)

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  1. Viewing-as Explanations and Ontic Dependence.William D’Alessandro - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (3):769-792.
    According to a widespread view in metaphysics and philosophy of science, all explanations involve relations of ontic dependence between the items appearing in the explanandum and the items appearing in the explanans. I argue that a family of mathematical cases, which I call “viewing-as explanations”, are incompatible with the Dependence Thesis. These cases, I claim, feature genuine explanations that aren’t supported by ontic dependence relations. Hence the thesis isn’t true in general. The first part of the paper defends this claim (...)
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  • Mathematical Explanation: A Contextual Approach.Sven Delarivière, Joachim Frans & Bart Van Kerkhove - 2017 - Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research 34 (2):309-329.
    PurposeIn this article, we aim to present and defend a contextual approach to mathematical explanation.MethodTo do this, we introduce an epistemic reading of mathematical explanation.ResultsThe epistemic reading not only clarifies the link between mathematical explanation and mathematical understanding, but also allows us to explicate some contextual factors governing explanation. We then show how several accounts of mathematical explanation can be read in this approach.ConclusionThe contextual approach defended here clears up the notion of explanation and pushes us towards a pluralist vision (...)
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  • Deflating Deflationary Truthmaking.Jamin Asay & Sam Baron - 2020 - Philosophical Quarterly 70 (278):1-21.
    In this paper we confront a challenge to truthmaker theory that is analogous to the objections raised by deflationists against substantive theories of truth. Several critics of truthmaker theory espouse a ‘deflationary’ attitude about truthmaking, though it has not been clearly presented as such. Our goal is to articulate and then object to the underlying rationale behind deflationary truthmaking. We begin by developing the analogy between deflationary truth and deflationary truthmaking, and then show how the latter can be found in (...)
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  • Abstract Versus Causal Explanations?Reutlinger Alexander & Andersen Holly - 2016 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 30 (2):129-146.
    In the recent literature on causal and non-causal scientific explanations, there is an intuitive assumption according to which an explanation is non-causal by virtue of being abstract. In this context, to be ‘abstract’ means that the explanans in question leaves out many or almost all causal microphysical details of the target system. After motivating this assumption, we argue that the abstractness assumption, in placing the abstract and the causal character of an explanation in tension, is misguided in ways that are (...)
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  • Scientific Understanding and Felicitous Legitimate Falsehoods.Insa Lawler - forthcoming - Synthese:1-29.
    Science is replete with falsehoods that epistemically facilitate understanding by virtue of being the very falsehoods they are. In view of this puzzling fact, some have relaxed the truth requirement on understanding. I offer a factive view of understanding that fully accommodates the puzzling fact in four steps: (i) I argue that the question how these falsehoods are related to the phenomenon to be understood and the question how they figure into the content of understanding it are independent. (ii) I (...)
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  • Idealization and the Ontic Conception: A Reply to Bokulich.Carl F. Craver - 2019 - The Monist 102 (4):525-530.
    In a recent issue of The Monist, Alisa Bokulich argues that those who embrace an ontic conception of scientific explanation are committed to rejecting an explanatory role for idealized, i.e., deliberately false, models. Her argument is based on an inaccurate characterization of the ontic view. Indeed, her positive view of idealization embraces rather than opposes the ontic conception. Because Bokulich is not alone in this misunderstanding, an effort to diagnose and correct it might prevent scholars from talking past one another (...)
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  • Re-Re-Reconciling the Epistemic and Ontic Views of Explanation: A Reply to Wright and van Eck.Benjamin Sheredos - manuscript
    In a recent article published in Ergo and entitled "Ontic explanation is either ontic or explanatory, but not both," Cory Wright and Dingmar van Eck have sought to undermine any ontic approach to explanation, providing three arguments to show that an epistemic approach is "the only game in town." I show that each of their arguments is straightforwardly question-begging. For brevity, I make my counter-arguments by showing how the claims of Sheredos (2016)-whom Wright & van Eck cite as an ally-undermine (...)
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  • The Metaphysics of Constitutive Mechanistic Phenomena.Marie I. Kaiser & Beate Krickel - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axv058.
    The central aim of this article is to specify the ontological nature of constitutive mechanistic phenomena. After identifying three criteria of adequacy that any plausible approach to constitutive mechanistic phenomena must satisfy, we present four different suggestions, found in the mechanistic literature, of what mechanistic phenomena might be. We argue that none of these suggestions meets the criteria of adequacy. According to our analysis, constitutive mechanistic phenomena are best understood as what we will call ‘object-involving occurrents’. Furthermore, on the basis (...)
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  • Long-Term Potentiation: One Kind or Many?Jacqueline Sullivan - 2016 - In Eppur Si Muove: Doing History and Philosophy of Science with Peter Machamer, A Collection of Essays in Honor of Peter Machamer. Springer Verlag. pp. 127-140.
    Do neurobiologists aim to discover natural kinds? I address this question in this chapter via a critical analysis of classification practices operative across the 43-year history of research on long-term potentiation (LTP). I argue that this 43-year history supports the idea that the structure of scientific practice surrounding LTP research has remained an obstacle to the discovery of natural kinds.
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  • Making Sense of Interlevel Causation in Mechanisms From a Metaphysical Perspective.Beate Krickel - 2017 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 48 (3):453-468.
    According to the new mechanistic approach, an acting entity is at a lower mechanistic level than another acting entity if and only if the former is a component in the mechanism for the latter. Craver and Bechtel :547–563, 2007. doi:10.1007/s10539-006-9028-8) argue that a consequence of this view is that there cannot be causal interactions between acting entities at different mechanistic levels. Their main reason seems to be what I will call the Metaphysical Argument: things at different levels of a mechanism (...)
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  • Mechanistic Levels, Reduction, and Emergence.Mark Povich & Carl F. Craver - forthcoming - In Stuart Glennan & Phyllis McKay Illari (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanical Philosophy. Routledge.
    We sketch the mechanistic approach to levels, contrast it with other senses of “level,” and explore some of its metaphysical implications. This perspective allows us to articulate what it means for things to be at different levels, to distinguish mechanistic levels from realization relations, and to describe the structure of multilevel explanations, the evidence by which they are evaluated, and the scientific unity that results from them. This approach is not intended to solve all metaphysical problems surrounding physicalism. Yet it (...)
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  • The Directionality of Distinctively Mathematical Explanations.Carl F. Craver & Mark Povich - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 63:31-38.
    In “What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical?” (2013b), Lange uses several compelling examples to argue that certain explanations for natural phenomena appeal primarily to mathematical, rather than natural, facts. In such explanations, the core explanatory facts are modally stronger than facts about causation, regularity, and other natural relations. We show that Lange's account of distinctively mathematical explanation is flawed in that it fails to account for the implicit directionality in each of his examples. This inadequacy is remediable in each (...)
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  • A Regularist Approach to Mechanistic Type-Level Explanation.Beate Krickel - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (4):00-00.
    Most defenders of the new mechanistic approach accept ontic constraints for successful scientific explanation (Illari 2013; Craver 2014). The minimal claim is that scientific explanations have objective truthmakers, namely mechanisms that exist in the physical world independently of any observer and that cause or constitute the phenomena-to- be-explained. How can this idea be applied to type-level explanations? Many authors at least implicitly assume that in order for mechanisms to be the truthmakers of type-level explanation they need to be regular (Andersen (...)
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  • Merleau-Ponty’s Implicit Critique of the New Mechanists.Benjamin Sheredos - 2018 - Synthese:1-25.
    I argue (1) that what (ontic) New Mechanistic philosophers of science call mechanisms would be material Gestalten, and (2) that Merleau-Ponty’s engagement with Gestalt theory can help us frame a standing challenge against ontic conceptions of mechanisms. In short, until the (ontic) New Mechanist can provide us with a plausible account of the organization of mechanisms as an objective feature of mind-independent ontic structures in the world which we might discover – and no ontic Mechanist has done so – it (...)
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  • Representation in Cognitive Science.Nicholas Shea - 2018 - Oxford University Press.
    How can we think about things in the outside world? There is still no widely accepted theory of how mental representations get their meaning. In light of pioneering research, Nicholas Shea develops a naturalistic account of the nature of mental representation with a firm focus on the subpersonal representations that pervade the cognitive sciences.
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  • Minimal Models and the Generalized Ontic Conception of Scientific Explanation.Mark Povich - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (1):117-137.
    Batterman and Rice ([2014]) 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’ ([2014], p. 356). In this article, I argue, first, that a method (the renormalization group) they propose (...)
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  • Is Episodic Memory a Natural Kind?Nikola Andonovski - 2018 - Essays in Philosophy 19 (2).
    In a recent paper, Cheng and Werning (2016) argue that the class of episodic memories constitutes a natural kind. Endorsing the homeostatic property cluster view of natural kinds, they suggest that episodic memories can be characterized by a cluster of properties unified by an underlying neural mechanism for coding sequences of events. Here, I argue that Cheng & Werning’s proposal faces some significant, and potentially insurmountable, difficulties. Two are described as most prominent. First, the proposal fails to satisfy an important (...)
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  • Functional Individuation, Mechanistic Implementation: The Proper Way of Seeing the Mechanistic View of Concrete Computation.Dimitri Coelho Mollo - 2018 - Synthese 195 (8):3477-3497.
    I examine a major objection to the mechanistic view of concrete computation, stemming from an apparent tension between the abstract nature of computational explanation and the tenets of the mechanistic framework: while computational explanation is medium-independent, the mechanistic framework insists on the importance of providing some degree of structural detail about the systems target of the explanation. I show that a common reply to the objection, i.e. that mechanistic explanation of computational systems involves only weak structural constraints, is not enough (...)
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  • The Narrow Ontic Counterfactual Account of Distinctively Mathematical Explanation.Mark Povich - 2019 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axz008.
    An account of distinctively mathematical explanation (DME) should satisfy three desiderata: it should account for the modal import of some DMEs; it should distinguish uses of mathematics in explanation that are distinctively mathematical from those that are not (Baron [2016]); and it should also account for the directionality of DMEs (Craver and Povich [2017]). Baron’s (forthcoming) deductive-mathematical account, because it is modelled on the deductive-nomological account, is unlikely to satisfy these desiderata. I provide a counterfactual account of DME, the Narrow (...)
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  • Are More Details Better? On the Norms of Completeness for Mechanistic Explanations.Carl F. Craver & David M. Kaplan - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axy015.
    Completeness is an important but misunderstood norm of explanation. It has recently been argued that mechanistic accounts of scientific explanation are committed to the thesis that models are complete only if they describe everything about a mechanism and, as a corollary, that incomplete models are always improved by adding more details. If so, mechanistic accounts are at odds with the obvious and important role of abstraction in scientific modelling. We respond to this characterization of the mechanist’s views about abstraction and (...)
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  • Representing and Explaining: The Eikonic Conception of Scientific Explanation.Alisa Bokulich - 2018 - Philosophy of Science (5):793-805.
    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 (...)
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  • Searching for Noncausal Explanations in a Sea of Causes.Alisa Bokulich - 2018 - In Alexander Reutlinger & Juha Saatsi (eds.), Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations. Oxford University Press.
    In the spirit of explanatory pluralism, this chapter argues that causal and noncausal explanations of a phenomenon are compatible, each being useful for bringing out different sorts of insights. After reviewing a model-based account of scientific explanation, which can accommodate causal and noncausal explanations alike, an important core conception of noncausal explanation is identified. This noncausal form of model-based explanation is illustrated using the example of how Earth scientists in a subfield known as aeolian geomorphology are explaining the formation of (...)
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  • Reconciling New Mechanism and Psychological Explanation: A Pragmatic Approach.Michael De Vivo - unknown
    Recently, Gualtiero Piccinini and Carl Craver have argued that functional analyses in psychology lack explanatory autonomy from explanations in neuroscience. In this thesis I argue against this claim by motivating and defending a pragmatic-epistemic conception of autonomous psychological explanation. I argue that this conception of autonomy need not require that functional analyses be distinct in kind from neural-mechanistic explanations. I use the framework of Bas van Fraassen’s Pragmatic Theory of Explanation to show that explanations in psychology and neuroscience can be (...)
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  • Recent Work in The Philosophy of Biology.Christopher J. Austin - 2017 - Analysis 77 (2):anx032.
    The biological sciences have always proven a fertile ground for philosophical analysis, one from which has grown a rich tradition stemming from Aristotle and flowering with Darwin. And although contemporary philosophy is increasingly becoming conceptually entwined with the study of the empirical sciences with the data of the latter now being regularly utilised in the establishment and defence of the frameworks of the former, a practice especially prominent in the philosophy of physics, the development of that tradition hasn’t received the (...)
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  • Systems Biology and the Integration of Mechanistic Explanation and Mathematical Explanation.Ingo Brigandt - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
    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 (...)
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  • The Metaphysics of Constitutive Mechanistic Phenomena.Marie I. Kaiser & Beate Krickel - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (3):745-779.
    ABSTRACT The central aim of this article is to specify the ontological nature of constitutive mechanistic phenomena. After identifying three criteria of adequacy that any plausible approach to constitutive mechanistic phenomena must satisfy, we present four different suggestions, found in the mechanistic literature, of what mechanistic phenomena might be. We argue that none of these suggestions meets the criteria of adequacy. According to our analysis, constitutive mechanistic phenomena are best understood as what we will call ‘object-involving occurrents’. Furthermore, on the (...)
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  • Mechanisms, Models and Laws in Understanding Supernovae.Phyllis Illari - 2019 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 50 (1):63-84.
    There has been a burst of work in the last couple of decades on mechanistic explanation, as an alternative to the traditional covering-law model of scientific explanation. That work makes some interesting claims about mechanistic explanations rendering phenomena ‘intelligible’, but does not develop this idea in great depth. There has also been a growth of interest in giving an account of scientific understanding, as a complement to an account of explanation, specifically addressing a three-place relationship between explanation, world, and the (...)
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  • Against Brute Fundamentalism.Kerry McKenzie - 2017 - Dialectica 71 (2):231-261.
    In metaphysics, the fundamental is standardly equated with that which has no explana- tion – with that which is, in other words, ‘brute’. But this doctrine of brutalism is in tension with physicists’ ambitions to not only describe but also explain why the fundamental is as it is. The tension would ease were science taken to be incapable of furnishing the sort of explanations that brutalism is concerned with, given that these are understood to be dis- tinctively ‘metaphysical’ in character. (...)
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  • Grounding and the Explanatory Role of Generalizations.Stefan Roski - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (8):1985-2003.
    According to Hempel’s influential theory of explanation, explaining why some a is G consists in showing that the truth that a is G follows from a law-like generalization to the effect that all Fs are G together with the initial condition that a is F. While Hempel’s overall account is now widely considered to be deeply flawed, the idea that some generalizations play the explanatory role that the account predicts is still often endorsed by contemporary philosophers of science. This idea, (...)
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  • Re-Reconciling the Epistemic and Ontic Views of Explanation.Benjamin Sheredos - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (5):919-949.
    Recent attempts to reconcile the ontic and epistemic approaches to explanation propose that our best explanations simply fulfill epistemic and ontic norms simultaneously. I aim to upset this armistice. Epistemic norms of attaining general and systematic explanations are, I argue, autonomous of ontic norms: they cannot be fulfilled simultaneously or in simple conjunction with ontic norms, and plausibly have priority over them. One result is that central arguments put forth by ontic theorists against epistemic theorists are revealed as not only (...)
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  • Indeterminism in the Brain.Bryce Gessell - 2017 - Biology and Philosophy 32 (6):1205-1223.
    Does the brain behave indeterministically? I argue that accounting for ion channels, key functional units in the brain, requires indeterministic models. These models are probabilistic, so the brain does behave indeterministically in a weak sense. I explore the implications of this point for a stronger sense of indeterminism. Ultimately I argue that it is not possible, either empirically or through philosophical argument, to show that the brain is indeterministic in that stronger sense.
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  • An Interventionist Approach to Psychological Explanation.Michael Rescorla - 2018 - Synthese 195 (5):1909-1940.
    Interventionism is a theory of causal explanation developed by Woodward and Hitchcock. I defend an interventionist perspective on the causal explanations offered within scientific psychology. The basic idea is that psychology causally explains mental and behavioral outcomes by specifying how those outcomes would have been different had an intervention altered various factors, including relevant psychological states. I elaborate this viewpoint with examples drawn from cognitive science practice, especially Bayesian perceptual psychology. I favorably compare my interventionist approach with well-known nomological and (...)
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