An Extra-Mathematical Program Explanation of Color Experience

International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 33 (3):153-173 (2020)
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In the debate over whether mathematical facts, properties, or entities explain physical events (in what philosophers call “extra-mathematical” explanations), Aidan Lyon’s (2012) affirmative answer stands out for its employment of the program explanation (PE) methodology of Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (1990). Juha Saatsi (2012; 2016) objects, however, that Lyon’s examples from the indispensabilist literature are (i) unsuitable for PE, (ii) nominalizable into non-mathematical terms, and (iii) mysterious about the explanatory relation alleged to obtain between the PE’s mathematical explanantia and physical explananda. In this paper, I propose a counterexample to Saatsi’s objections. My counterexample is Frank Jackson’s (1998a) program explanation for color experience, which I argue needs recasting as an extra-mathematical PE due to its implicit reliance on reflectance, a property that suffers conceptual regress unless redefined with Fourier harmonics. Pace Saatsi, I argue that this recast example is an authoritative PE, non-nominalizable, and minimally esoteric. Important for the indispensability debate at large, moreover, is that my counterexample reifies Fourier harmonics without the Enhanced Indispensability Argument (an argument to which Lyon applies PE as a premise). Indispensabilists have long overlooked the conditionalization of a limited mathematical realism on property realism, and my counterexample to Saatsi exploits this conditionalization.

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Nicholas Danne
University of South Carolina


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