A Defense of Truth as a Necessary Condition on Scientific Explanation

Erkenntnis 88 (2):621-640 (2021)
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Abstract

How can a reflective scientist put forward an explanation using a model when they are aware that many of the assumptions used to specify that model are false? This paper addresses this challenge by making two substantial assumptions about explanatory practice. First, many of the propositions deployed in the course of explaining have a non-representational function. In particular, a proposition that a scientist uses and also believes to be false, i.e. an “idealization”, typically has some non-representational function in the practice, such as the interpretation of some model or the specification of the target of the explanation. Second, when an agent puts forward an explanation using a model, they usually aim to remain agnostic about various features of the phenomenon being explained. In this sense, explanations are intended to be autonomous from many of the more fundamental features of such systems. I support these two assumptions by showing how they allow one to address a number of recent concerns raised by Bokulich, Potochnik and Rice. In addition, these assumptions lead to a defense of the view that explanations are wholly true that improves on the accounts developed by Craver, Mäki and Strevens.

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Christopher Pincock
Ohio State University

Citations of this work

Regulative Idealization: A Kantian Approach to Idealized Models.Lorenzo Spagnesi - 2023 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 99 (C):1-9.
Micro-level model explanation and counterfactual constraint.Samuel Schindler - 2022 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 12 (2):1-27.
Book Symposium: Collin Rice's Leveraging Distortions. [REVIEW]Christopher Pincock - 2022 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 95 (C):230-232.

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Aboutness.Stephen Yablo - 2014 - Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Idealization and the Aims of Science.Angela Potochnik - 2017 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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