Explaining Engineered Computing Systems’ Behaviour: the Role of Abstraction and Idealization

Philosophy and Technology 30 (2):239-258 (2017)
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This paper addresses the methodological problem of analysing what it is to explain observed behaviours of engineered computing systems, focusing on the crucial role that abstraction and idealization play in explanations of both correct and incorrect BECS. First, it is argued that an understanding of explanatory requests about observed miscomputations crucially involves reference to the rich background afforded by hierarchies of functional specifications. Second, many explanations concerning incorrect BECS are found to abstract away from descriptions of physical components and processes of computing systems that one finds below the logic circuit and gate layer of functional specification hierarchies. Third, model-based explanations of both correct and incorrect BECS that are provided in the framework of formal verification methods often involve idealizations. Moreover, a distinction between restrictive and permissive idealizations is introduced and their roles in BECS explanations are analysed.

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Nature's capacities and their measurement.Nancy Cartwright - 1989 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: a mechanist alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.

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