Modality and constitution in distinctively mathematical explanations

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Lange argues that some natural phenomena can be explained by appeal to mathematical, rather than natural, facts. In these “distinctively mathematical” explanations, the core explanatory facts are either modally stronger than facts about ordinary causal law or understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement at issue. Craver and Povich argue that Lange’s account of DME fails to exclude certain “reversals”. Lange has replied that his account can avoid these directionality charges. Specifically, Lange argues that in legitimate DMEs, but not in their “reversals,” the empirical fact appealed to in the explanation is “understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement at issue” in the explanandum. I argue that Lange’s reply is unsatisfactory because it leaves the crucial notion of being “understood to be constitutive of the physical task or arrangement” obscure in ways that fail to block “reversals” except by an apparent ad hoc stipulation or by abandoning the reliance on understanding and instead accepting a strong realism about essence.
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Archival date: 2020-04-30
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