Du Châtelet on Sufficient Reason and Empirical Explanation

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For Emilie Du Châtelet, I argue, a central role of the principle of sufficient reason is to discriminate between better and worse explanations. Her principle of sufficient reason does not play this for just any conceivable intellect: it specifically enables understanding for minds like ours. She develops this idea in terms of two criteria for the success of our explanations: ‘understanding how’ and ‘understanding why.’ These criteria can respectively be connected to the determinateness and contrastivity of explanations. The crucial role Du Châtelet’s principle of sufficient reason plays in identifying good explanations is often overlooked in the literature, or run together with questions about the justification or likelihood of explanations. An auxiliary goal of the paper is to situate Du Châtelet’s principle of sufficient reason with respect to some of the general epistemological and metaphysical commitments of her Institutions de Physique, clarifying how it fits into the broader project of that work.
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Archival date: 2021-06-05
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