A New Role for Mathematics in Empirical Sciences

Philosophy of Science 88 (4):686-706 (2021)
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Mathematics is often taken to play one of two roles in the empirical sciences: either it represents empirical phenomena or it explains these phenomena by imposing constraints on them. This article identifies a third and distinct role that has not been fully appreciated in the literature on applicability of mathematics and may be pervasive in scientific practice. I call this the “bridging” role of mathematics, according to which mathematics acts as a connecting scheme in our explanatory reasoning about why and how two different descriptions of an empirical phenomenon relate to each other. I discuss two bridging roles appearing in biological and physical explanations.
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Archival date: 2021-03-06
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