What does it mean for scientists to truly understand, rather than to merely describe, how the world works? Michael Strevens proposes a novel theory of scientific explanation and understanding that overhauls and augments the familiar causal approach to explanation. What is replaced is the test for explanatorily relevant causal information: Strevens discards the usual criterion of counterfactual dependence in favor of a criterion that turns on a process of progressive abstraction away from a fully detailed, physical causal story. The augmentations include the introduction of a new, non-causal explanatory relevance relation—entanglement—and an independent theory of the role of black-boxing and functional specification in explanation.
The abstraction-centered notion of difference-making leads to a rich causal treatment of many aspects of explanation that have been either ignored or handled inadequately by earlier causal approaches, including the explanation of laws and other regularities, with particular attention to the explanation of physically contingent high-level laws, idealization in explanation, and probabilistic explanation in deterministic systems, as in statistical physics, evolutionary biology, and medicine.
The result is an account of explanation that has especially significant consequences for the higher-level sciences: biology, psychology, economics, and other social sciences.
Depth is an excellent book--the best treatment of explanation in the philosophical literature. Strevens draws on a wealth of scientific and philosophical knowledge to craft a theory that is true to the facts about how scientific explanation actually works, while avoiding the traps that have snared previous attempts at providing a systematic theory.
Strevens proposes a substantial revision and upgrading of traditional causal approaches to explanation in the sciences. Focusing on what he calls "causal difference-making," the non-causal relation "entanglement," and requiring progressive abstraction toward deeper explanatory models employing lower-level causal laws, Strevens outlines a theory of explanation that will no doubt attract a significant amount of interest--especially among those interested in the structure of the biological and social sciences (for which it has interesting consequences)...Although the concepts are not easy ones, and even though the arguments are directed at professionals, undergraduates will be able to read this book with profit. The very brief final chapter on the aesthetics of explanation raises thought-provoking questions that readily invite response from students, other philosophers, or possibly Strevens himself. In short, this is a valuable book for any program that includes the philosophy of science.
This volume will prove indispensable for philosophers working in the field of explanation...Strevens's book provides an excellent survey of recent argumentation on causal explanation with a rigorous defense of his own brand of explanation.
[An] impressive book...Depth provides many intellectually stimulating and highly original thoughts on a number of critical and venerable philosophical topics. Any philosopher of science today will surely find it to be a rewarding read.
- 536 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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