Monday, April 14, 2014

Colloquium (4/22): "Scientific Understanding and Model Explanation"

Collin Rice, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Lycoming College

Tuesday, April 22 @ 4:30 PM
   » Willard–Smith Library (Vaughan Literature Building) 

Abstract: Scientists frequently provide explanations with highly idealized models. In this presentation, I will argue for what I call the counterfactual account of model explanations by drawing on the recent literature regarding different kinds of explanation in science, the nature of scientific understanding, and the use of idealizations in science. I first identify three important desiderata that arise from considering the explanations provided by highly idealized models. First, a satisfactory account of model explanations must tell us the kind of information provided by models that explain. Second, it must explicate how that information is related to the cognitive achievement of understanding. Finally, the account must show how ineliminable idealizations can make positive contributions to explanations. I contend that the counterfactual account of model explanations satisfies these three desiderata better than other prominent views of how models explain. Consequently, we ought to adopt and continue to develop the counterfactual account.