Friday, March 11, 2016

Special Journal Issue: Indispensability and Explanation

There is a great new special issue of Synthese that brings together a number of new papers on explanatory indispensability arguments. The editors have also included comments on some of the articles. Here is the lineup:

Indispensability and explanation: an overview and introduction
Daniele Molinini, Fabrice Pataut, Andrea Sereni Pages 317-332
Parsimony and inference to the best mathematical explanation
Alan Baker Pages 333-350
Comments on “Parsimony and inference to the best mathematical explanation”
Fabrice Pataut Pages 351-363
The explanatory dispensability of idealizations
Sam Baron Pages 365-386
Which explanatory role for mathematics in scientific models? Reply to “The Explanatory Dispensability of Idealizations”
Silvia De Bianchi Pages 387-401
Evidence, explanation and enhanced indispensability
Daniele Molinini Pages 403-422
Equivalent explanations and mathematical realism. Reply to “Evidence, Explanation, and Enhanced Indispensability”
Andrea Sereni Pages 423-434
Should scientific realists be platonists?
Jacob Busch, Joe Morrison Pages 435-449
Indispensability and the problem of compatible explanations
Josh Hunt Pages 451-467
The varieties of indispensability arguments
Marco Panza, Andrea Sereni Pages 469-516
Naturalizing indispensability: a rejoinder to ‘The varieties of indispensability arguments’
Henri Galinon Pages 517-530
Grounding and the indispensability argument
David Liggins Pages 531-548
Nominalistic content, grounding, and covering generalizations: Reply to ‘Grounding and the indispensability argument’
Matteo Plebani Pages 549-558

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Scientia Salon Discussion of Abstract Explanation Preprint

There is lively discussion of my preprint "Abstract Explanations in Science" (BJPS) over at Scientia Salon. Readers of this blog might be interested in checking it out, and supporting the site more generally.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Paperback of Mathematics and Scientific Representation is out!

Thanks to some good work at Oxford, the paperback edition of my 2012 book is now available. (It is listed on Amazon at least, and should be on the OUP USA website soon.) As much as I wanted to, I resisted the urge to make corrections and improvements.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My PSA 2014 talk (title, abstract and change in time)

This week is the 2014 edition of the Philosophy of Science Association conference. A great program has been assembled here.

Due to an oversight on my part, a conflict developed, and I had to request that the program chair move the time for my talk. The talk will now be presented on Friday Nov. 7th in the 4-6pm session on Explanation. I am grateful to the program chair for accommodating this last minute request.

Title: Newton, Laplace and Salmon on Explaining the Tides
Abstract: Salmon cites Newton's explanation of the tides in support of a causal account of scientific explanation. In this paper I reconsider the details of how Newton and his successors actually succeeded in explaining several key features of the tides. It turns out that these explanations depend on elements that are not easily interpreted in causal terms. I use the explanations offered after Newton to indicate two different ways that non-causal factors can be significant for scientific explanation. In Newton's equilibrium explanation, only a few special features of the tides can be explained. A later explanation deploys a kind of harmonic analysis to provide an informative classification of the tides at different locations. I consider the options for making sense of these explanations.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Two new papers on abstract (mathematical) explanation

There has not been much activity here lately, but I wanted to link to two new papers of mine that tackle the vexing issue of mathematical explanation in math and in science. I try to isolate a kind of "abstract" explanation using two cases, and explore their significance.

The Unsolvability of the Quintic: A Case Study in Abstract Mathematical Explanation
Philosophers' Imprint, forthcoming.
Abstract: This paper identifies one way that a mathematical proof can be more explanatory than another proof. This is by invoking a more abstract kind of entity than the topic of the theorem. These abstract mathematical explanations are identified via an investigation of a canonical instance of modern mathematics: the Galois theory proof that there is no general solution in radicals for fifth-degree polynomial equations. I claim that abstract explanations are best seen as describing a special sort of dependence relation between distinct mathematical domains. This case study highlights the importance of the conceptual, as opposed to computational, turn of much of modern mathematics, as recently emphasized by Tappenden and Avigad. The approach adopted here is contrasted with alternative proposals by Steiner and Kitcher.

Abstract Explanations in Science
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, forthcoming.
A previous version of this paper is online here.
Abstract: This paper focuses on a case that expert practitioners count as an explanation: a mathematical account of Plateau's laws for soap films. I argue that this example falls into a class of explanations that I call abstract explanations. Abstract explanations involve an appeal to a more abstract entity than the state of affairs being explained. I show that the abstract entity need not be causally relevant to the explanandum for its features to be explanatorily relevant. However, it remains unclear how to unify abstract and causal explanations as instances of a single sort of thing. I conclude by examining the implications of the claim that explanations require objective dependence relations. If this claim is accepted, then there are several kinds of objective dependence relations.

It remains to be seen if this "ontic" approach is the best way to go, but I believe it is a promising avenue to explore.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

New Symposium on Glock's What is Analytic Philosophy?

The most recent issue of the Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy has just appeared with a long-awaited symposium on Glock's book on the nature of analytic philosophy. Discussants include me, Leila Haaparanta, Panu Raatikainen and Graham Stevens. Glock also offers an extended and helpful reply. This issue marks the end of the term of our first editor in chief, Mark Textor. I would like to thank him for all his work in getting this new open-access journal going. I would also like to welcome our new editor in chief, Sandra Lapointe!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Six Papers in Mind About Mathematical Fictionalism

The October 2012 issue of Mind (posted today here) has an extended discussion section where mathematical fictionalists of various stripes respond to Colyvan's earlier article "There is No Easy Road to Nominalism". The discussion concludes with a detailed reply by Colyvan. While I am a fan of neither Colyvan's explanatory indispensability argument nor its fictionalist critics, I look forward to reading this discussion and engaging with it soon!

The contents:

Jody Azzouni Taking the Easy Road Out of Dodge Mind (2012) 121(484): 951-965

Otávio Bueno An Easy Road to Nominalism Mind (2012) 121(484): 967-982

Mary Leng Taking it Easy: A Response to Colyvan Mind (2012) 121(484): 983-995

David Liggins Weaseling and the Content of Science Mind (2012) 121(484): 997-1005

Stephen Yablo Explanation, Extrapolation, and Existence Mind (2012) 121(484): 1007-1029

Mark Colyvan Road Work Ahead: Heavy Machinery on the Easy Road Mind (2012) 121(484): 1031-1046