Synthese 198 (1):79-103 (forthcoming)

Lauren N. Ross
University of California, Irvine
The periodic table represents and organizes all known chemical elements on the basis of their properties. While the importance of this table in chemistry is uncontroversial, the role that it plays in scientific reasoning remains heavily disputed. Many philosophers deny the explanatory role of the table and insist that it is “merely” classificatory The structure of scientific theories, University of Illinois Press, Illinois, 1977; Scerri in Erkenntnis 47:229–243, 1997). In particular, it has been claimed that the table does not figure in causal explanation because it “does not reveal causal structure”. This paper provides an analysis of what it means to say that a scientific figure reveals causal structure and it argues that the modern periodic table does just this. It also clarifies why these “merely” classificatory claims have seemed so compelling–this is because these claims often focus on the earliest periodic tables, which lack the causal structure present in modern versions.
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Reprint years 2017, 2018
DOI 10.1007/s11229-018-01982-0
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Explanatory Unification and the Causal Structure of the World.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.
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Who is a Modeler?Michael Weisberg - 2007 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 58 (2):207-233.

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