Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-hl5gf Total loading time: 0.214 Render date: 2023-01-28T04:35:04.534Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Levels of Explanation Reconceived

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Abstract

A common argument against explanatory reductionism is that higher-level explanations are sometimes or always preferable because they are more general than reductive explanations. Here I challenge two basic assumptions that are needed for that argument to succeed. It cannot be assumed that higher-level explanations are more general than their lower-level alternatives or that higher-level explanations are general in the right way to be explanatory. I suggest a novel form of pluralism regarding levels of explanation, according to which explanations at different levels are preferable in different circumstances because they offer different types of generality, which are appropriate in different circumstances of explanation.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Footnotes

This article has benefited from comments by Michael Friedman, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Elliott Sober, Michael Strevens, and Michael Weisberg, as well as two anonymous referees for Philosophy of Science.

References

Bull, J. J., Pfennig, David W., and Wang, Ing Nang (2004), “Genetic Details, Optimization and Phage Life Histories”, Genetic Details, Optimization and Phage Life Histories 19:7682.Google ScholarPubMed
Cover, J. A., and Curd, Martin, eds. (1998), Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Curnow, R. N., and Ayres, K. L. (2007), “Population Genetic Models Can Be Used to Study the Evolution of the Interacting Behaviors of Parents and Their Progeny”, Population Genetic Models Can Be Used to Study the Evolution of the Interacting Behaviors of Parents and Their Progeny 72:6776.Google Scholar
Dretske, Fred (1972), “Contrastive Statements”, Contrastive Statements 81:411437.Google Scholar
Dupré, John (1993), The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Fodor, Jerry (1974), “Special Sciences: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis”, Special Sciences: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis 28:97115.Google Scholar
Friedman, Michael (1974), “Explanation and Scientific Understanding”, Explanation and Scientific Understanding 71:519.Google Scholar
Garfinkel, Alan (1981), Forms of Explanation: Rethinking the Questions in Social Theory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Jackson, Frank, and Pettit, Philip (1992), “In Defense of Explanatory Ecumenism”, In Defense of Explanatory Ecumenism 8:121.Google Scholar
Kitcher, Philip (1981), “Explanatory Unification”, Explanatory Unification 48:507531.Google Scholar
Kitcher, Philip (1984), “1953 and All That: A Tale of Two Sciences”, 1953 and All That: A Tale of Two Sciences 93:335373.Google Scholar
Mayr, Ernst (1961), “Cause and Effect in Biology”, Cause and Effect in Biology 134:15011506.Google ScholarPubMed
Oppenheim, Paul, and Putnam, Hilary (1958), “Unity of Science as a Working Hypothesis”, in Feigl, Herbert, Scriven, Michael, and Maxwell, Grover (eds.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 2. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 336.Google Scholar
Potochnik, Angela (2007), “Optimality Modeling and Explanatory Generality”, Optimality Modeling and Explanatory Generality 74:680691.Google Scholar
Potochnik, Angela (forthcoming), “Explanatory Independence and Epistemic Interdependence: A Case Study of the Optimality Approach”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.Google Scholar
Putnam, Hilary (1975), Philosophy and Our Mental Life. Vol. 2, Philosophical Papers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Rosenberg, Alexander (1994), Instrumental Biology or the Disunity of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Sober, Elliott (1984), The Nature of Selection. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Sober, Elliott (1999), “The Multiple Realizability Argument against Reduction”, The Multiple Realizability Argument against Reduction 66:542564.Google Scholar
Strevens, Michael (2009), Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
van Fraassen, Bas (1980), The Scientific Image. Oxford: Clarendon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Woodward, James (2003), Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
31
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Levels of Explanation Reconceived
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Levels of Explanation Reconceived
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Levels of Explanation Reconceived
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *