Philosophy and Technology 30 (2):239-258 (2017)

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.
Keywords Philosophy of computer science  Miscomputation  Explanation  Abstraction  Idealization
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DOI 10.1007/s13347-016-0235-1
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