How Idealizations Provide Understanding

In Stephen Grimm, Christoph Baumberger & Sabine Ammon (eds.), Explaining Understanding: New Essays in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Science. Routledge (forthcoming)
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Abstract

How can a model that stops short of representing the whole truth about the causal production of a phenomenon help us to understand the phenomenon? I answer this question from the perspective of what I call the simple view of understanding, on which to understand a phenomenon is to grasp a correct explanation of the phenomenon. Idealizations, I have argued in previous work, flag factors that are casually relevant but explanatorily irrelevant to the phenomena to be explained. Though useful to the would-be understander, such flagging is only a first step. Are there any further and more advanced ways that idealized models aid understanding? Yes, I propose: the manipulation of idealized models can provide considerable insight into the reasons that some causal factors are difference-makers and others are not, which helps the understander to grasp the nature of explanatory connections and so to better grasp the explanation itself

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Michael Strevens
New York University

References found in this work

Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
Three Kinds of Idealization.Michael Weisberg - 2007 - Journal of Philosophy 104 (12):639-659.
Causal Explanation.David Lewis - 1986 - In Philosophical Papers Vol. Ii. Oxford University Press. pp. 214-240.

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