Causal explanation and scientific realism

Erkenntnis 37 (2):151 - 178 (1992)
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Abstract

It is widely believed that many of the competing accounts of scientific explanation have ramifications which are relevant to the scientific realism debate. I claim that the two issues are orthogonal. For definiteness, I consider Cartwright's argument that causal explanations secure belief in theoretical entities. In Section I, van Fraassen's anti-realism is reviewed; I argue that this anti-realism is, prima facie, consistent with a causal account of explanation. Section II reviews Cartwright's arguments. In Section III, it is argued that causal explanations do not license the sort of inferences to theoretical entities that would embarass the anti-realist. Section IV examines the epistemic commitments involved in accepting a causal explanation. Section V presents my conclusions: contra Cartwright, the anti-realist may incorporate a causal account of explanation into his vision of science in an entirely natural way

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Christopher Hitchcock
California Institute of Technology

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References found in this work

How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Laws and Symmetry.Bas C. Van Fraassen - 1989 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement.Nancy Cartwright - 1989 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.

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