Call an explanation in which a non-mathematical fact is explained—in part or in whole—by mathematical facts: an extra-mathematicalexplanation. Such explanations have attracted a great deal of interest recently in arguments over mathematical realism. In this article, a theory of extra-mathematicalexplanation is developed. The theory is modelled on a deductive-nomological theory of scientific explanation. A basic DN account of extra-mathematicalexplanation is proposed and then redeveloped in the light (...) of two difficulties that the basic theory faces. The final view appeals to relevance logic and uses resources in information theory to understand the explanatory relationship between mathematical and physical facts. 1Introduction2Anchoring3The Basic Deductive-Mathematical Account4The Genuineness Problem5Irrelevance6Relevance and Information7Objections and Replies 7.1Against relevance logic7.2Too epistemic7.3Informational containment8Conclusion. (shrink)
This article presents a challenge that those philosophers who deny the causal interpretation of explanations provided by population genetics might have to address. Indeed, some philosophers, known as statisticalists, claim that the concept of natural selection is statistical in character and cannot be construed in causal terms. On the contrary, other philosophers, known as causalists, argue against the statistical view and support the causal interpretation of natural selection. The problem I am concerned with here arises for the statisticalists because the (...) debate on the nature of natural selection intersects the debate on whether mathematical explanations of empirical facts are genuine scientific explanations. I argue that if the explanations provided by population genetics are regarded by the statisticalists as non-causal explanations of that kind, then statisticalism risks being incompatible with a naturalist stance. The statisticalist faces a dilemma: either she maintains statisticalism but has to renounce naturalism; or she maintains naturalism but has to content herself with an account of the explanations provided by population genetics that she deems unsatisfactory. This challenge is relevant to the statisticalists because many of them see themselves as naturalists. (shrink)
In “What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical?” (2013b), Lange uses several compelling examples to argue that certain explanations for natural phenomena appeal primarily to mathematical, rather than natural, facts. In such explanations, the core explanatory facts are modally stronger than facts about causation, regularity, and other natural relations. We show that Lange's account of distinctively mathematicalexplanation is flawed in that it fails to account for the implicit directionality in each of his examples. This (...) inadequacy is remediable in each case by appeal to ontic facts that account for why the explanation is acceptable in one direction and unacceptable in the other direction. The mathematics involved in these examples cannot play this crucial normative role. While Lange's examples fail to demonstrate the existence of distinctively mathematical explanations, they help to emphasize that many superficially natural scientific explanations rely for their explanatory force on relations of stronger-than-natural necessity. These are not opposing kinds of scientific explanations; they are different aspects of scientific explanation. (shrink)
PurposeIn this article, we aim to present and defend a contextual approach to mathematicalexplanation.MethodTo do this, we introduce an epistemic reading of mathematicalexplanation.ResultsThe epistemic reading not only clarifies the link between mathematicalexplanation and mathematical understanding, but also allows us to explicate some contextual factors governing explanation. We then show how several accounts of mathematicalexplanation can be read in this approach.ConclusionThe contextual approach defended here clears up the (...) notion of explanation and pushes us towards a pluralist vision on mathematicalexplanation. (shrink)
A new trend in the philosophical literature on scientific explanation is that of starting from a case that has been somehow identified as an explanation and then proceed to bringing to light its characteristic features and to constructing an account for the type of explanation it exemplifies. A type of this approach to thinking about explanation – the piecemeal approach, as I will call it – is used, among others, by Lange (2013) and Pincock (2015) in (...) the context of their treatment of the problem of mathematical explanations of physical phenomena. This problem is of central importance in two different recent philosophical disputes: the dispute about the existence on non-causal scientific explanations and the dispute between realists and antirealists in the philosophy of mathematics. My aim in this paper is twofold. I will first argue that Lange (2013) and Pincock (2015) fail to make a significant contribution to these disputes. They fail to contribute to the dispute in the philosophy of mathematics because, in this context, their approach can be seen as question begging. They also fail to contribute to the dispute in the general philosophy of science because, as I will argue, there are important problems with the cases discussed by Lange and Pincock. I will then argue that the source of the problems with these two papers has to do with the fact that the piecemeal approach used to account for mathematicalexplanation is problematic. (shrink)
Some scientific explanations appear to turn on pure mathematical claims. The enhanced indispensability argument appeals to these ‘mathematical explanations’ in support of mathematical platonism. I argue that the success of this argument rests on the claim that mathematical explanations locate pure mathematical facts on which their physical explananda depend, and that any account of mathematicalexplanation that supports this claim fails to provide an adequate understanding of mathematicalexplanation.
Mathematics appears to play an explanatory role in science. This, in turn, is thought to pave a way toward mathematical Platonism. A central challenge for mathematical Platonists, however, is to provide an account of how mathematical explanations work. I propose a property-based account: physical systems possess mathematical properties, which either guarantee the presence of other mathematical properties and, by extension, the physical states that possess them; or rule out other mathematical properties, and their associated (...) physical states. I explain why Platonists should accept that physical systems have mathematical properties, and why a property based account is better than existing accounts of mathematicalexplanation. I close by considering whether nominalists can accept the view I propose here. I argue that they cannot. (shrink)
An account of distinctively mathematicalexplanation (DME) should satisfy three desiderata: it should account for the modal import of some DMEs; it should distinguish uses of mathematics in explanation that are distinctively mathematical from those that are not (Baron [2016]); and it should also account for the directionality of DMEs (Craver and Povich [2017]). Baron’s (forthcoming) deductive-mathematical account, because it is modelled on the deductive-nomological account, is unlikely to satisfy these desiderata. I provide a counterfactual (...) account of DME, the Narrow Ontic Counterfactual Account (NOCA), that can satisfy all three desiderata. NOCA appeals to ontic considerations to account for explanatory asymmetry and ground the relevant counterfactuals. NOCA provides a unification of the causal and the non-causal, the ontic and the modal, by identifying a common core that all explanations share and in virtue of which they are explanatory. (shrink)
(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. (shrink)
So-called ‘distinctively mathematical explanations’ (DMEs) are said to explain physical phenomena, not in terms of contingent causal laws, but rather in terms of mathematical necessities that constrain the physical system in question. Lange argues that the existence of four or more equilibrium positions of any double pendulum has a DME. Here we refute both Lange’s claim itself and a strengthened and extended version of the claim that would pertain to any n-tuple pendulum system on the ground that such (...) explanations are actually causal explanations in disguise and their associated modal conditionals are not general enough to explain the said features of such dynamical systems. We argue and show that if circumscribing the antecedent for a necessarily true conditional in such explanations involves making a causal analysis of the problem, then the resulting explanation is not distinctively mathematical or non-causal. Our argument generalises to other dynamical systems that may have purported DMEs analogous to the one proposed by Lange, and even to some other counterfactual accounts of non-causal explanation given by Reutlinger and Rice. (shrink)
Mathematicians distinguish between proofs that explain their results and those that merely prove. This paper explores the nature of explanatory proofs, their role in mathematical practice, and some of the reasons why philosophers should care about them. Among the questions addressed are the following: what kinds of proofs are generally explanatory (or not)? What makes a proof explanatory? Do all mathematical explanations involve proof in an essential way? Are there really such things as explanatory proofs, and if so, (...) how do they relate to the sorts of explanation encountered in philosophy of science and metaphysics? (shrink)
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. (shrink)
A finer-grained delineation of a given explanandum reveals a nexus of closely related causal and non- causal explanations, complementing one another in ways that yield further explanatory traction on the phenomenon in question. By taking a narrower construal of what counts as a causal explanation, a new class of distinctively mathematical explanations pops into focus; Lange’s characterization of distinctively mathematical explanations can be extended to cover these. This new class of distinctively mathematical explanations is illustrated with (...) the Lotka-Volterra equations. There are at least two distinct ways those equations might hold of a system, one of which yields straightforwardly causal explanations, but the other of which yields explanations that are distinctively mathematical in terms of nomological strength. In the first, one first picks out a system or class of systems, finds that the equations hold in a causal -explanatory way; in the second, one starts with the equations and explanations that must apply to any system of which the equations hold, and only then turns to the world to see of what, if any, systems it does in fact hold. Using this new way in which a model might hold of a system, I highlight four specific avenues by which causal and non- causal explanations can complement one another. (shrink)
We have reached the peculiar situation where the advance of mainstream science has required us to dismiss as unreal our own existence as free, creative agents, the very condition of there being science at all. Efforts to free science from this dead-end and to give a place to creative becoming in the world have been hampered by unexamined assumptions about what science should be, assumptions which presuppose that if creative becoming is explained, it will be explained away as an illusion. (...) In this paper it is shown that this problem has permeated the whole of European civilization from the Ancient Greeks onwards, leading to a radical disjunction between cosmology which aims at a grasp of the universe through mathematics and history which aims to comprehend human action through stories. By going back to the Ancient Greeks and tracing the evolution of the denial of creative becoming, I trace the layers of assumptions that must in some way be transcended if we are to develop a truly post-Egyptian science consistent with the forms of understanding and explanation that have evolved within history. (shrink)
Extra-mathematical explanations explain natural phenomena primarily by appeal to mathematical facts. Philosophers disagree about whether there are extra-mathematical explanations, the correct account of them if they exist, and their implications (e.g., for the philosophy of scientific explanation and for the metaphysics of mathematics) (Baker 2005, 2009; Bangu 2008; Colyvan 1998; Craver and Povich 2017; Lange 2013, 2016, 2018; Mancosu 2008; Povich 2019, 2020; Steiner 1978). In this discussion note, I present three desiderata for any account of (...) extra-mathematicalexplanation and argue that Baron’s (2020) U-Counterfactual Theory fails to meet each of them. I conclude with some reasons for pessimism that a successful account will be forthcoming. (shrink)
Mathematics clearly plays an important role in scientific explanation. Debate continues, however, over the kind of role that mathematics plays. I argue that if pure mathematical explananda and physical explananda are unified under a common explanation within science, then we have good reason to believe that mathematics is explanatory in its own right. The argument motivates the search for a new kind of scientific case study, a case in which pure mathematical facts and physical facts are (...) explanatorily unified. I argue that it is possible for there to be such cases, and provide some toy examples to demonstrate this. I then identify a potential source of scientific case studies as a guide for future work. (shrink)
In this chapter we use methods of corpus linguistics to investigate the ways in which mathematicians describe their work as explanatory in their research papers. We analyse use of the words explain/explanation (and various related words and expressions) in a large corpus of texts containing research papers in mathematics and in physical sciences, comparing this with their use in corpora of general, day-to-day English. We find that although mathematicians do use this family of words, such use is considerably less (...) prevalent in mathematics papers than in physics papers or in general English. Furthermore, we find that the proportion with which mathematicians use expressions related to ‘explaining why’ and ‘explaining how’ is significantly different to the equivalent proportion in physics and in general English. We discuss possible accounts for these differences. (shrink)
A way to argue that something plays an explanatory role in science is by linking explanatory relevance with importance in the context of an explanation. The idea is deceptively simple: a part of an explanation is an explanatorily relevant part of that explanation if removing it affects the explanation either by destroying it or by diminishing its explanatory power, i.e. an important part is an explanatorily relevant part. This can be very useful in many ontological debates. (...) My aim in this paper is twofold. First of all, I will try to assess how this view on explanatory relevance can affect the recent ontological debate in the philosophy of mathematics—as I will argue, contrary to how it may appear at first glance, it does not help very much the mathematical realists. Second of all, I will show that there are big problems with it. (shrink)
Arguing for mathematical realism on the basis of Field’s explanationist version of the Quine–Putnam Indispensability argument, Alan Baker has recently claimed to have found an instance of a genuine mathematicalexplanation of a physical phenomenon. While I agree that Baker presents a very interesting example in which mathematics plays an essential explanatory role, I show that this example, and the argument built upon it, begs the question against the mathematical nominalist.
In this paper, I propose that applying the methods of data science to “the problem of whether mathematical explanations occur within mathematics itself” (Mancosu 2018) might be a fruitful way to shed new light on the problem. By carefully selecting indicator words for explanation and justification, and then systematically searching for these indicators in databases of scholarly works in mathematics, we can get an idea of how mathematicians use these terms in mathematical practice and with what frequency. (...) The results of this empirical study suggest that mathematical explanations do occur in research articles published in mathematics journals, as indicated by the occurrence of explanation indicators. When compared with the use of justification indicators, however, the data suggest that justifications occur much more frequently than explanations in scholarly mathematical practice. The results also suggest that justificatory proofs occur much more frequently than explanatory proofs, thus suggesting that proof may be playing a larger justificatory role than an explanatory role in scholarly mathematical practice. (shrink)
In the last couple of years, a few seemingly independent debates on scientific explanation have emerged, with several key questions that take different forms in different areas. For example, the questions what makes an explanation distinctly mathematical and are there any non-causal explanations in sciences (i.e., explanations that don’t cite causes in the explanans) sometimes take a form of the question of what makes mathematical models explanatory, especially whether highly idealized models in science can be explanatory (...) and in virtue of what they are explanatory. These questions raise further issues about counterfactuals, modality, and explanatory asymmetries: i.e., do mathematical and non-causal explanations support counterfactuals, and how ought we to understand explanatory asymmetries in non-causal explanations? Even though these are very common issues in the philosophy of physics and mathematics, they can be found in different guises in the philosophy of biology where there is the statistical interpretation of the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution, according to which the post-Darwinian theory of natural selection explains evolutionary change by citing statistical properties of populations and not the causes of changes. These questions also arise in philosophy of ecology or neuroscience in regard to the nature of topological explanations. The question here is can the mathematical (or more precisely topological) properties in network models in biology, ecology, neuroscience, and computer science be explanatory of physical phenomena, or are they just different ways to represent causal structures. The aim of this special issue is to unify all these debates around several overlapping questions. These questions are: are there genuinely or distinctively mathematical and non-causal explanations?; are all distinctively mathematical explanations also non-causal; in virtue of what they are explanatory; does the instantiation, implementation, or in general, applicability of mathematical structures to a variety of phenomena and systems play any explanatory role? This special issue provides a platform for unifying the debates around several key issues and thus opens up avenues for better understanding of mathematical and non-causal explanations in general, but also, it will enable even better understanding of key issues within each of the debates. (shrink)
In his influential book, The Nature of Morality, Gilbert Harman writes: “In explaining the observations that support a physical theory, scientists typically appeal to mathematical principles. On the other hand, one never seems to need to appeal in this way to moral principles.” What is the epistemological relevance of this contrast, if genuine? This chapter argues that ethicists and philosophers of mathematics have misunderstood it. They have confused what the chapter calls the justificatory challenge for realism about an area, (...) D—the challenge to justify our D-beliefs—with the reliability challenge for D-realism—the challenge to explain the reliability of our D-beliefs. Harman’s contrast is relevant to the first, but not, evidently, to the second. One upshot of the discussion is that genealogical debunking arguments are fallacious. Another is that indispensability considerations cannot answer the Benacerraf–Field challenge for mathematical realism. (shrink)
Mathematical models provide explanations of limited power of specific aspects of phenomena. One way of articulating their limits here, without denying their essential powers, is in terms of contrastive explanation.
Lange’s collection of expanded, mostly previously published essays, packed with numerous, beautiful examples of putatively non-causal explanations from biology, physics, and mathematics, challenges the increasingly ossified causal consensus about scientific explanation, and, in so doing, launches a new field of philosophic investigation. However, those who embraced causal monism about explanation have done so because appeal to causal factors sorts good from bad scientific explanations and because the explanatory force of good explanations seems to derive from revealing the relevant (...) causal (or ontic) structures. The taxonomic project of collecting examples and sorting their types is an essential starting place for a theory of non-causal explanation. But the title of Lange’s book requires something further: showing that the putative explanations are, in fact, explanatory and revealing the non-causal source of their explanatory power. This project is incomplete if there are examples of putative non-causal explanations that fit the form but that nobody would accept as explanatory (absent a radical revision of intuitions). Here we provide some reasons for thinking that there are such examples. (shrink)
We demonstrate how real progress can be made in the debate surrounding the enhanced indispensability argument. Drawing on a counterfactual theory of explanation, well-motivated independently of the debate, we provide a novel analysis of ‘explanatory generality’ and how mathematics is involved in its procurement. On our analysis, mathematics’ sole explanatory contribution to the procurement of explanatory generality is to make counterfactual information about physical dependencies easier to grasp and reason with for creatures like us. This gives precise content to (...) key intuitions traded in the debate, regarding mathematics’ procurement of explanatory generality, and adjudicates unambiguously in favour of the nominalist, at least as far as explanatory generality is concerned. (shrink)
This thesis starts with three challenges to the structuralist accounts of applied mathematics. Structuralism views applied mathematics as a matter of building mapping functions between mathematical and target-ended structures. The first challenge concerns how it is possible for a non-mathematical target to be represented mathematically when the mapping functions per se are mathematical objects. The second challenge arises out of inconsistent early calculus, which suggests that mathematical representation does not require rigorous mathematical structures. The third (...) challenge comes from renormalisation group (RG) explanations of universality. It is argued that the structural mapping between the world and a highly abstract minimal model adds little value to our understanding of how RG obtains its explanatory force. I will address the first and second challenges from the similarity perspective. The similarity account captures representations as similarity relations, providing a more flexible and broader conception of representation than structuralism. It is the specification of the respect and degree of similarity that forges mathematics into a context of representation and directs it to represent a specific system in reality. Structuralism is treatable as a tool for explicating similarity rela-tions set-theoretically. The similarity account, combined with other approaches (e.g., Nguyen and Frigg’s extensional abstraction account and van Fraassen’s pragmatic equivalence), can dissolve the first challenge. Additionally, I will make a structuralist response to the second challenge, and suggestions regarding the role of infinitesimals from the similarity perspective. In light of the similarity account, I will propose the “hotchpotch picture” as a method-ological reflection of our study of representation and explanation. Its central insight is to dissect a representation or an explanation into several aspects and use different theories (that are usually thought of competing) to appropriate each of them. Based on the hotchpotch picture, RG explanations can be dissected to the “indexing” and “inferential” conceptions of explanation, which are captured or characterised by structural mappings. Therefore, structuralism accommodates RG explanations, and the third challenge is resolved. (shrink)
Gauss’s quadratic reciprocity theorem is among the most important results in the history of number theory. It’s also among the most mysterious: since its discovery in the late 18th century, mathematicians have regarded reciprocity as a deeply surprising fact in need of explanation. Intriguingly, though, there’s little agreement on how the theorem is best explained. Two quite different kinds of proof are most often praised as explanatory: an elementary argument that gives the theorem an intuitive geometric interpretation, due to (...) Gauss and Eisenstein, and a sophisticated proof using algebraic number theory, due to Hilbert. Philosophers have yet to look carefully at such explanatory disagreements in mathematics. I do so here. According to the view I defend, there are two important explanatory virtues—depth and transparency—which different proofs (and other potential explanations) possess to different degrees. Although not mutually exclusive in principle, the packages of features associated with the two stand in some tension with one another, so that very deep explanations are rarely transparent, and vice versa. After developing the theory of depth and transparency and applying it to the case of quadratic reciprocity, I draw some morals about the nature of mathematicalexplanation. (shrink)
According to a widespread view in metaphysics and philosophy of science, all explanations involve relations of ontic dependence between the items appearing in the explanandum and the items appearing in the explanans. I argue that a family of mathematical cases, which I call “viewing-as explanations”, are incompatible with the Dependence Thesis. These cases, I claim, feature genuine explanations that aren’t supported by ontic dependence relations. Hence the thesis isn’t true in general. The first part of the paper defends this (...) claim and discusses its significance. The second part of the paper considers whether viewing-as explanations occur in the empirical sciences, focusing on the case of so-called fictional models. It’s sometimes suggested that fictional models can be explanatory even though they fail to represent actual worldly dependence relations. Whether or not such models explain, I suggest, depends on whether we think scientific explanations necessarily give information relevant to intervention and control. Finally, I argue that counterfactual approaches to explanation also have trouble accommodating viewing-as cases. (shrink)
Models are indispensable tools of scientific inquiry, and one of their main uses is to improve our understanding of the phenomena they represent. How do models accomplish this? And what does this tell us about the nature of understanding? While much recent work has aimed at answering these questions, philosophers' focus has been squarely on models in empirical science. I aim to show that pure mathematics also deserves a seat at the table. I begin by presenting two cases: Cramér’s random (...) model of the prime numbers and the function field model of the integers. These cases show that mathematicians, like empirical scientists, rely on unrealistic models to gain understanding of complex phenomena. They also have important implications for some much-discussed theses about scientific understanding. First, modeling practices in mathematics confirm that one can gain understanding without obtaining an explanation. Second, these cases undermine the popular thesis that unrealistic models confer understanding by imparting counterfactual knowledge. (shrink)
Are there arguments in mathematics? Are there explanations in mathematics? Are there any connections between argument, proof and explanation? Highly controversial answers and arguments are reviewed. The main point is that in the case of a mathematical proof, the pragmatic criterion used to make a distinction between argument and explanation is likely to be insufficient for you may grant the conclusion of a proof but keep on thinking that the proof is not explanatory.
Proponents of the explanatory indispensability argument for mathematical platonism maintain that claims about mathematical entities play an essential explanatory role in some of our best scientific explanations. They infer that the existence of mathematical entities is supported by way of inference to the best explanation from empirical phenomena and therefore that there are the same sort of empirical grounds for believing in mathematical entities as there are for believing in concrete unobservables such as quarks. I (...) object that this inference depends on a false view of how abductive considerations mediate the transfer of empirical support. More specifically, I argue that even if inference to the best explanation is cogent, and claims about mathematical entities play an essential explanatory role in some of our best scientific explanations, it doesn’t follow that the empirical phenomena that license those explanations also provide empirical support for the claim that mathematical entities exist. (shrink)
Can mathematics contribute to our understanding of physical phenomena? One way to try to answer this question is by getting involved in the recent philosophical dispute about the existence of mathematical explanations of physical phenomena. If there is such a thing, given the relation between explanation and understanding, we can say that there is an affirmative answer to our question. But what if we do not agree that mathematics can play an explanatory role in science? Can we still (...) consider that the above question can have an affirmative answer? My main aim here is to give an account that takes mathematics, in some of the cases discussed in the literature, as contributing to our understanding of physical phenomena despite not being explanatory. (shrink)
Recently, there have been several attempts to generalize the counterfactual theory of causal explanations to mathematical explanations. The central idea of these attempts is to use conditionals whose antecedents express a mathematical impossibility. Such countermathematical conditionals are plugged into the explanatory scheme of the counterfactual theory and -- so is the hope -- capture mathematical explanations. Here, I dash the hope that countermathematical explanations simply parallel counterfactual explanations. In particular, I show that explanations based on countermathematicals are (...) susceptible to three problems counterfactual explanations do not face. These problems seriously challenge the prospects for a counterfactual theory of explanation that is meant to cover mathematical explanations. (shrink)
Philippe Huneman has recently questioned the widespread application of mechanistic models of scientific explanation based on the existence of structural explanations, i.e. explanations that account for the phenomenon to be explained in virtue of the mathematical properties of the system where the phenomenon obtains, rather than in terms of the mechanisms that causally produce the phenomenon. Structural explanations are very diverse, including cases like explanations in terms of bowtie structures, in terms of the topological properties of the system, (...) or in terms of equilibrium. The role of mathematics in bowtie structured systems and in topologically constrained systems has recently been examined in different papers. However, the specific role that mathematical properties play in equilibrium explanations requires further examination, as different authors defend different interpretations, some of them closer to the new-mechanistic approach than to the structural model advocated by Huneman. In this paper, we cover this gap by investigating the explanatory role that mathematics play in Blaser and Kirschner’s nested equilibrium model of the stability of persistent long-term human-microbe associations. We argue that their model is explanatory because: i) it provides a mathematical structure in the form of a set of differential equations that together satisfy an ESS; ii) that the nested nature of the ESSs makes the explanation of host-microbe persistent associations robust to any perturbation; iii) that this is so because the properties of the ESS directly mirror the properties of the biological system in a non-causal way. The combination of these three theses make equilibrium explanations look more similar to structural explanations than to causal-mechanistic explanation. (shrink)
The literature on the indispensability argument for mathematical realism often refers to the ‘indispensable explanatory role’ of mathematics. I argue that we should examine the notion of explanatory indispensability from the point of view of specific conceptions of scientific explanation. The reason is that explanatory indispensability in and of itself turns out to be insufficient for justifying the ontological conclusions at stake. To show this I introduce a distinction between different kinds of explanatory roles—some ‘thick’ and ontologically committing, (...) others ‘thin’ and ontologically peripheral—and examine this distinction in relation to some notable ‘ontic’ accounts of explanation. I also discuss the issue in the broader context of other ‘explanationist’ realist arguments. (shrink)
Philosophers of science since Nagel have been interested in the links between intertheoretic reduction and explanation, understanding and other forms of epistemic progress. Although intertheoretic reduction is widely agreed to occur in pure mathematics as well as empirical science, the relationship between reduction and explanation in the mathematical setting has rarely been investigated in a similarly serious way. This paper examines an important particular case: the reduction of arithmetic to set theory. I claim that the reduction is (...) unexplanatory. In defense of this claim, I offer evidence from mathematical practice, and I respond to contrary suggestions due to Steinhart, Maddy, Kitcher and Quine. I then show how, even if set-theoretic reductions are generally not explanatory, set theory can nevertheless serve as a legitimate foundation for mathematics. Finally, some implications of my thesis for philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of science are discussed. In particular, I suggest that some reductions in mathematics are probably explanatory, and I propose that differing standards of theory acceptance might account for the apparent lack of unexplanatory reductions in the empirical sciences. (shrink)
This paper aims to contribute to the analysis of the nature of mathematical modality, and to the applications of the latter to unrestricted quantification and absolute decidability. Rather than countenancing the interpretational type of mathematical modality as a primitive, I argue that the interpretational type of mathematical modality is a species of epistemic modality. I argue, then, that the framework of two-dimensional semantics ought to be applied to the mathematical setting. The framework permits of a formally (...) precise account of the priority and relation between epistemic mathematical modality and metaphysical mathematical modality. The discrepancy between the modal systems governing the parameters in the two-dimensional intensional setting provides an explanation of the difference between the metaphysical possibility of absolute decidability and our knowledge thereof. I also advance a topic-sensitive epistemic two-dimensional truthmaker semantics, if hyperintensional approaches are to be preferred to possible worlds semantics. I examine the relation between two-dimensional hyperintensional states and epistemic set theory, providing two-dimensional hyperintensional formalizations of the modal logic of ZFC, large cardinal axioms, $\Omega$-logic, and the Epistemic Church-Turing Thesis. (shrink)
This is an introduction to the volume "Explanation Beyond Causation: Philosophical Perspectives on Non-Causal Explanations", edited by A. Reutlinger and J. Saatsi (OUP, forthcoming in 2017). -/- Explanations are very important to us in many contexts: in science, mathematics, philosophy, and also in everyday and juridical contexts. But what is an explanation? In the philosophical study of explanation, there is long-standing, influential tradition that links explanation intimately to causation: we often explain by providing accurate information about (...) the causes of the phenomenon to be explained. Such causal accounts have been the received view of the nature of explanation, particularly in philosophy of science, since the 1980s. However, philosophers have recently begun to break with this causal tradition by shifting their focus to kinds of explanation that do not turn on causal information. The increasing recognition of the importance of such non-causal explanations in the sciences and elsewhere raises pressing questions for philosophers of explanation. What is the nature of non-causal explanations - and which theory best captures it? How do non-causal explanations relate to causal ones? How are non-causal explanations in the sciences related to those in mathematics and metaphysics? This volume of new essays explores answers to these and other questions at the heart of contemporary philosophy of explanation. The essays address these questions from a variety of perspectives, including general accounts of non-causal and causal explanations, as well as a wide range of detailed case studies of non-causal explanations from the sciences, mathematics and metaphysics. (shrink)
Plausibly, mathematical claims are true, but the fundamental furniture of the world does not include mathematical objects. This can be made sense of by providing mathematical claims with paraphrases, which make clear how the truth of such claims does not require the fundamental existence of mathematical objects. This paper explores the consequences of this type of position for explanatory structure. There is an apparently straightforward relationship between this sort of structure, and the logical sort: i.e. logically (...) complex claims are explained by logically simpler ones. For example, disjunctions are explained by their (true) disjuncts, while generalizations are explained by their (true) instances. This would seem as plausible in the case of mathematics as elsewhere. Also, it would seem to be something that the anti-realist approaches at issue would want to preserve. It will be argued, however, that these approaches cannot do this: they lead not merely to violations of the familiar principles relating logical and explanatory structure, but even to reversals of these. That is, there are cases where generalizations explain their instances, or disjunctions their disjuncts. (shrink)
This paper argues that scientific realism commits us to a metaphysical determination relation between the mathematical entities that are indispensible to scientific explanation and the modal structure of the empirical phenomena those entities explain. The argument presupposes that scientific realism commits us to the indispensability argument. The viewpresented here is that the indispensability of mathematics commits us not only to the existence of mathematical structures and entities but to a metaphysical determination relation between those entities and the (...) modal structure of the physical world. The no-miracles argument is the primary motivation for scientific realism. It is a presupposition of this argument that unobservable entities are explanatory only when they determine the empirical phenomena they explain. I argue that mathematical entities should also be seen as explanatory only when they determine the empirical facts they explain, namely, the modal structure of the physical world. Thus, scientific realism commits us to a metaphysical determination relation between mathematics and physical modality that has not been previously recognized. The requirement to account for the metaphysical dependence of modal physical structure on mathematics limits the class of acceptable solutions to the applicability problem that are available to the scientific realist. (shrink)
Detailed examinations of scientific practice have revealed that the use of idealized models in the sciences is pervasive. These models play a central role in not only the investigation and prediction of phenomena, but in their received scientific explanations as well. This has led philosophers of science to begin revising the traditional philosophical accounts of scientific explanation in order to make sense of this practice. These new model-based accounts of scientific explanation, however, raise a number of key questions: (...) Can the fictions and falsehoods inherent in the modeling practice do real explanatory work? Do some highly abstract and mathematical models exhibit a noncausal form of scientific explanation? How can one distinguish an exploratory "how-possibly" model explanation from a genuine "how-actually" model explanation? Do modelers face tradeoffs such that a model that is optimized for yielding explanatory insight, for example, might fail to be the most predictively accurate, and vice versa? This chapter explores the various answers that have been given to these questions. (shrink)
The primary justification for mathematical structuralism is its capacity to explain two observations about mathematical objects, typically natural numbers. Non-eliminative structuralism attributes these features to the particular ontology of mathematics. I argue that attributing the features to an ontology of structural objects conflicts with claims often made by structuralists to the effect that their structuralist theses are versions of Quine’s ontological relativity or Putnam’s internal realism. I describe and argue for an alternative explanation for these features which (...) instead explains the attributes them to the mathematical practice of representing numbers using more concrete tokens, such as sets, strokes and so on. (shrink)
The philosophical conception of mechanistic explanation is grounded on a limited number of canonical examples. These examples provide an overly narrow view of contemporary scientific practice, because they do not reflect the extent to which the heuristic strategies and descriptive practices that contribute to mechanistic explanation have evolved beyond the well-known methods of decomposition, localization, and pictorial representation. Recent examples from evolutionary robotics and network approaches to biology and neuroscience demonstrate the increasingly important role played by computer simulations (...) and mathematical representations in the epistemic practices of mechanism discovery and mechanism description. These examples also indicate that the scope of mechanistic explanation must be re-examined: With new and increasingly powerful methods of discovery and description comes the possibility of describing mechanisms far more complex than traditionally assumed. (shrink)
A common kind of explanation in cognitive neuroscience might be called functiontheoretic: with some target cognitive capacity in view, the theorist hypothesizes that the system computes a well-defined function (in the mathematical sense) and explains how computing this function constitutes (in the system’s normal environment) the exercise of the cognitive capacity. Recently, proponents of the so-called ‘new mechanist’ approach in philosophy of science have argued that a model of a cognitive capacity is explanatory only to the extent that (...) it reveals the causal structure of the mechanism underlying the capacity. If they are right, then a cognitive model that resists a transparent mapping to known neural mechanisms fails to be explanatory. I argue that a functiontheoretic characterization of a cognitive capacity can be genuinely explanatory even absent an account of how the capacity is realized in neural hardware. (shrink)
This monograph offers a fresh perspective on the applicability of mathematics in science. It explores what mathematics must be so that its applications to the empirical world do not constitute a mystery. In the process, readers are presented with a new version of mathematical structuralism. The author details a philosophy of mathematics in which the problem of its applicability, particularly in physics, in all its forms can be explained and justified. Chapters cover: mathematics as a formal science, mathematical (...) ontology: what does it mean to exist, mathematical structures: what are they and how do we know them, how different layers of mathematical structuring relate to each other and to perceptual structures, and how to use mathematics to find out how the world is. The book simultaneously develops along two lines, both inspired and enlightened by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological philosophy. One line leads to the establishment of a particular version of mathematical structuralism, free of “naturalist” and empiricist bias. The other leads to a logical-epistemological explanation and justification of the applicability of mathematics carried out within a unique structuralist perspective. This second line points to the “unreasonable” effectiveness of mathematics in physics as a means of representation, a tool, and a source of not always logically justified but useful and effective heuristic strategies. (shrink)
Recently, many have argued that there are certain kinds of abstract mathematical explanations that are noncausal. In particular, the irrelevancy approach suggests that abstracting away irrelevant causal details can leave us with a noncausal explanation. In this paper, I argue that the common example of Renormalization Group explanations of universality used to motivate the irrelevancy approach deserves more critical attention. I argue that the reasons given by those who hold up RG as noncausal do not stand up to (...) critical scrutiny. As a result, the irrelevancy approach and the line between casual and noncausal explanation deserves more scrutiny. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
The idea that there are some facts that call for explanation serves as an unexamined premise in influential arguments for the inexistence of moral or mathematical facts and for the existence of a god and of other universes. This book is the first to offer a comprehensive and critical treatment of this idea. It argues that calling for explanation is a sometimes-misleading figure of speech rather than a fundamental property of facts.
Inanimate explanation is to be analysed in terms of substances having powers and liabilities to exercise their powers under certain conditions; while personal explanation is to be analysed in terms of persons, their beliefs, powers, and purposes. A crucial criterion for an explanation being probably true is that it is (among explanations leading us to expect the data) the simplest one. Simplicity is a matter of few substances, few kinds of substances, few properties (including powers and liabilities), (...) few kinds of properties, and mathematically simple relations between properties. Explanation of the existence of the universe by the agency of God provides the simplest kind of personal explanation there can be, and one simpler than any inanimate explanation. I defend this view more thoroughly than previously in light of recent challenges. (shrink)
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