Not So Distinctively Mathematical Explanations

Abstract

(Longer version - work in progress) Various accounts of distinctively mathematical explanations (DMEs) of complex systems have been proposed recently which bypass the contingent causal laws and appeal primarily to mathematical necessities constraining the system. These necessities are considered to be modally exalted in that they obtain with a greater necessity than the ordinary laws of nature (Lange 2016). This paper focuses on DMEs of the number of equilibrium positions of n-tuple pendulum systems and considers several different DMEs of these systems which bypass causal features. It then argues that there is a tension between the modal strength of these DMEs and their epistemic hooking, and we are forced to choose between (a) a purported DME with greater modal strength and wider applicability but poor epistemic hooking, or (b) a narrowly applicable DME with lesser modal strength but with the right kind of epistemic hooking. It also aims to show why some kind of DMEs may be unappealing for working scientists despite their strong modality, and why some DMEs fail to be modally robust because of making ill-informed assumptions about their target systems. The broader goal is to show why such tensions weaken the case for DMEs for pendulum systems in general.

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2021-04-30

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