Understanding science: Why causes are not enough

Philosophy of Science 65 (2):306-332 (1998)
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This paper is an empirical critique of causal accounts of scientific explanation. Drawing on explanations which rely on nonlinear dynamical modeling, I argue that the requirement of causal relevance is both too strong and too weak to be constitutive of scientific explanation. In addition, causal accounts obscure how the process of mathematical modeling produces explanatory information. I advance three arguments for the inadequacy of causal accounts. First, I argue that explanatorily relevant information is not always information about causes, even in cases where the explanandum has an identifiable causal history. Second, I argue that treating theoretical explanations as reductions from general causal laws does not accurately describe the types of "top-down" explanations typical of dynamical modeling. Finally, I argue that causal/mechanical accounts of explanation are intrinsically vulnerable to the irrelevance problem



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