PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Symposium: Contexts of Scientific Explanation

Friday, 4 November 2016
13:30 - 15:30

Chastain E (6th Floor)

Chair: Andrew Wayne, University of Guelph

This symposium develops four different responses to the problem of explanatory pluralism. It seems that different scientific disciplines explain things differently, and that even a single phenomenon is susceptible to many kinds of explanation. One general response to this problem is to emphasize the role of the context in which the explanation is given. However, there is no consensus on how the context should figure in a philosophical account of explanation or on the implications of a contextual approach for theories of explanation. 

On one approach, the context serves only to indicate the object of the explanation (Pincock). A richer role for context emphasizes the various aims that scientists have and how these aims can inform what counts as an explanation (Woody). A different strategy is to use biological practice to motivate an interactionist account of explanation that factors in how humans cope with their complex environment (Barker). A fourth option argues that the prevailing ontic conception of explanation should be replaced by a more contextually sensitive “representational” approach (Bokulich). By bringing together these four responses to the problem of explanatory pluralism, this symposium offers a timely and original contribution to these urgent philosophical debates.

Contextual Interaction in Biological Explanation
Gillian Barker, University of Western Ontario,
Toward an Eikonic Conception of Explanation: Why We Should Leave the Ontic Conception Behind
Alisa Bokulich, Boston University,
Explanatory Relevance and Contrastive Explanation
Christopher Pincock, Ohio State University,
Explanation, Context, and Aims: Limitations of the Erotetic Account Against the Backdrop of Synthetic Chemistry
Andrea Woody, University of Washington,


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