Rethinking unification : unification as an explanatory value in scientific practice

Dissertation, University of Ghent (2018)
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Abstract

This dissertation starts with a concise overview of what philosophers of science have written about unification and its role in scientific explanation during the last 50 years to provide the reader with some background knowledge. In order to bring unification back into the picture, I have followed two strategies, resulting respectively in Parts I and II of this dissertation. In Part I the idea of unification is used to refine and enrich the dominant causalmechanist and causal-interventionist accounts of scientific explanation. In this part of the dissertation I bracket the classical ideas about unification: deduction and derivation. I do grant, for the sake of argument, that explanations are causal and argue that unification is important from within this causalist perspective. In Part II I continue my strategy of digging into scientific practice to find cases of ontological unification. But here I distance myself from the dominant literature that all explanations must be causal. I will investigate whether explanatory unification is possible in non-causal explanations. Part III contains some further reflections and conclusions. I will formulate my primary results, and I will elaborate on their implications for thinking about unification and explanation. The different forms of ontological unification were quite diverse. This relates to the method I have used. Throughout this dissertation the types of unification that were discussed emerged from digging into scientific practice. This philosophy-of-science-practice approach steered me towards a pluralistic view on unification and on explanation. In this dissertation I do not try to develop a new model of explanation and compare it to existing models. The aim is to show that there are important types of explanatory practice which cannot be properly analyzed if we neglect unification as a desideratum for explanations.

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Merel Lefevere
Ghent University

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References found in this work

How the laws of physics lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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