Abstraction and Explanatory Relevance; or, Why Do the Special Sciences Exist?

Philosophy of Science 78 (5):1143-1155 (2011)
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Abstract

Non-reductive physicalists have long held that the special sciences offer explanations of some phenomena that are objectively superior to physical explanations. This explanatory “autonomy” has largely been based on the multiple realizability argument. Recently, in the face of the local reduction and disjunctive property responses to multiple realizability, some defenders of non-reductive physicalism have suggested that autonomy can be grounded merely in human cognitive limitations. In this paper, I argue that this is mistaken. By distinguishing between two kinds of abstraction I show that the greater explanatory relevance of some special science predicates (to certain explananda) is both non-anthropocentric and not solely based on considerations of multiple realizability. This shows that the explanatory autonomy of the special sciences is safe from the local reduction and disjunctive property strategies, even if they are successful responses to the multiple realizability argument.

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Matthew Haug
William & Mary