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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. 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Viewing-as Explanations and Ontic Dependence.William D’Alessandro - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-24.
    According to a widespread view in metaphysics and philosophy of science (the “Dependence Thesis”), 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 (...)
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