•  1828
    The Limitations of Hierarchical Organization
    with Brian McGill
    Philosophy of Science 79 (1): 120-140. 2012.
    The concept of hierarchical organization is commonplace in science. Subatomic particles compose atoms, which compose molecules; cells compose tissues, which compose organs, which compose organisms; etc. Hierarchical organization is particularly prominent in ecology, a field of research explicitly arranged around levels of ecological organization. The concept of levels of organization is also central to a variety of debates in philosophy of science. Yet many difficulties plague the concept of dis…Read more
  •  1502
    Levels of explanation reconceived
    Philosophy of Science 77 (1): 59-72. 2010.
    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 lev…Read more
  •  1263
    Patterns in Cognitive Phenomena and Pluralism of Explanatory Styles
    Topics in Cognitive Science 12 (4): 1306-1320. 2019.
    Debate about cognitive science explanations has been formulated in terms of identifying the proper level(s) of explanation. Views range from reductionist, favoring only neuroscience explanations, to mechanist, favoring the integration of multiple levels, to pluralist, favoring the preservation of even the most general, high-level explanations, such as those provided by embodied or dynamical approaches. In this paper, we challenge this framing. We suggest that these are not different levels of ex…Read more
  •  1244
    Our World Isn't Organized into Levels
    In Daniel Stephen Brooks, James DiFrisco & William C. Wimsatt (eds.), Levels of Organization in the Biological Sciences, Mit Press. 2021.
    Levels of organization and their use in science have received increased philosophical attention of late, including challenges to the well-foundedness or widespread usefulness of levels concepts. One kind of response to these challenges has been to advocate a more precise and specific levels concept that is coherent and useful. Another kind of response has been to argue that the levels concept should be taken as a heuristic, to embrace its ambiguity and the possibility of exceptions as acceptable…Read more
  •  1149
    A Neurathian Conception of the Unity of Science
    Erkenntnis 74 (3): 305-319. 2011.
    An historically important conception of the unity of science is explanatory reductionism, according to which the unity of science is achieved by explaining all laws of science in terms of their connection to microphysical law. There is, however, a separate tradition that advocates the unity of science. According to that tradition, the unity of science consists of the coordination of diverse fields of science, none of which is taken to have privileged epistemic status. This alternate conception h…Read more
  •  1092
    Explanation and Understanding: An Alternative to Strevens’ D epth
    European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1 (1): 29-38. 2011.
    Michael Strevens offers an account of causal explanation according to which explanatory practice is shaped by counterbalanced commitments to representing causal influence and abstracting away from overly specific details. In this paper, I challenge a key feature of that account. I argue that what Strevens calls explanatory frameworks figure prominently in explanatory practice because they actually improve explanations. This suggestion is simple but has far-reaching implications. It affects the s…Read more
  •  1054
    The diverse aims of science
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 53 71-80. 2015.
    There is increasing attention to the centrality of idealization in science. One common view is that models and other idealized representations are important to science, but that they fall short in one or more ways. On this view, there must be an intermediary step between idealized representation and the traditional aims of science, including truth, explanation, and prediction. Here I develop an alternative interpretation of the relationship between idealized representation and the aims of scie…Read more
  •  1052
    Idealization and Many Aims
    Philosophy of Science 87 (5): 933-943. 2020.
    In this paper, I first outline the view developed in my recent book on the role of idealization in scientific understanding. I discuss how this view leads to the recognition of a number of kinds of variability among scientific representations, including variability introduced by the many different aims of scientific projects. I then argue that the role of idealization in securing understanding distances understanding from truth, but that this understanding nonetheless gives rise to scientific kn…Read more
  •  945
    The tremendous philosophical focus on how to characterize explanatory metaphysical dependence has eclipsed a number of other unresolved issued about scientific explanation. The purpose of this paper is taxonomical. I will outline a number of other questions about the nature of explanation and its role in science—eight, to be precise—and argue that each is independent. All of these topics have received some philosophical attention, but none nearly so much as it deserves. Furthermore, existing vie…Read more
  •  925
    Revisiting Galison’s ‘Aufbau/Bauhaus’ in light of Neurath’s philosophical projects
    with Audrey Yap
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (3): 469-488. 2006.
    Historically, the Vienna Circle and the Dessau Bauhaus were related, with members of each group familiar with the ideas of the other. Peter Galison argues that their projects are related as well, through shared political views and methodological approach. The two main figures that connect the Vienna Circle to the Bauhaus—and the figures upon which Galison focuses—are Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath. Yet the connections that Galison develops do not properly capture the common themes between the…Read more
  •  882
    Scientific Explanation: Putting Communication First
    Philosophy of Science 83 (5): 721-732. 2016.
    Scientific explanations must bear the proper relationship to the world: they must depict what, out in the world, is responsible for the explanandum. But explanations must also bear the proper relationship to their audience: they must be able to create human understanding. With few exceptions, philosophical accounts of explanation either ignore entirely the relationship between explanations and their audience or else demote this consideration to an ancillary role. In contrast, I argue that consid…Read more
  •  853
    Modeling social and evolutionary games
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1): 202-208. 2012.
    When game theory was introduced to biology, the components of classic game theory models were replaced with elements more befitting evolutionary phenomena. The actions of intelligent agents are replaced by phenotypic traits; utility is replaced by fitness; rational deliberation is replaced by natural selection. In this paper, I argue that this classic conception of comprehensive reapplication is misleading, for it overemphasizes the discontinuity between human behavior and evolved traits. Explic…Read more
  •  764
    Feminist implications of model-based science
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 43 (2): 383-389. 2012.
    Recent philosophy of science has witnessed a shift in focus, in that significantly more consideration is given to how scientists employ models. Attending to the role of models in scientific practice leads to new questions about the representational roles of models, the purpose of idealizations, why multiple models are used for the same phenomenon, and many more besides. In this paper, I suggest that these themes resonate with central topics in feminist epistemology, in particular prominent ver…Read more
  •  755
    Explanatory independence and epistemic interdependence: A case study of the optimality approach
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61 (1): 213-233. 2010.
    The value of optimality modeling has long been a source of contention amongst population biologists. Here I present a view of the optimality approach as at once playing a crucial explanatory role and yet also depending on external sources of confirmation. Optimality models are not alone in facing this tension between their explanatory value and their dependence on other approaches; I suspect that the scenario is quite common in science. This investigation of the optimality approach thus serves a…Read more
  •  750
    Causal patterns and adequate explanations
    Philosophical Studies 172 (5): 1163-1182. 2015.
    Causal accounts of scientific explanation are currently broadly accepted (though not universally so). My first task in this paper is to show that, even for a causal approach to explanation, significant features of explanatory practice are not determined by settling how causal facts bear on the phenomenon to be explained. I then develop a broadly causal approach to explanation that accounts for the additional features that I argue an explanation should have. This approach to explanation makes sen…Read more
  •  729
    Optimality modeling in a suboptimal world
    Biology and Philosophy 24 (2): 183-197. 2009.
    The fate of optimality modeling is typically linked to that of adaptationism: the two are thought to stand or fall together (Gould and Lewontin, Proc Relig Soc Lond 205:581–598, 1979; Orzack and Sober, Am Nat 143(3):361–380, 1994). I argue here that this is mistaken. The debate over adaptationism has tended to focus on one particular use of optimality models, which I refer to here as their strong use. The strong use of an optimality model involves the claim that selection is the only important i…Read more
  •  717
    Divergence of values and goals in participatory research
    with Lucas Dunlap, Amanda Corris, Melissa Jacquart, and Zvi Biener
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 88 (C): 284-291. 2021.
    Public participation in scientific research has gained prominence in many scientific fields, but the theory of participatory research is still limited. In this paper, we suggest that the divergence of values and goals between academic researchers and public participants in research is key to analyzing the different forms this research takes. We examine two existing characterizations of participatory research: one in terms of public participants' role in the research, the other in terms of the vi…Read more
  •  705
    There is widespread recognition at universities that a proper understanding of science is needed for all undergraduates. Good jobs are increasingly found in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine, and science now enters almost all aspects of our daily lives. For these reasons, scientific literacy and an understanding of scientific methodology are a foundational part of any undergraduate education. Recipes for Science provides an accessible introduction to the main conce…Read more
  •  659
    Optimality modeling and explanatory generality
    Philosophy of Science 74 (5): 680-691. 2007.
    The optimality approach to modeling natural selection has been criticized by many biologists and philosophers of biology. For instance, Lewontin (1979) argues that the optimality approach is a shortcut that will be replaced by models incorporating genetic information, if and when such models become available. In contrast, I think that optimality models have a permanent role in evolutionary study. I base my argument for this claim on what I think it takes to best explain an event. In certain cont…Read more
  •  658
    Scientific realism is a thesis about the success of science. Most traditionally: science has been so successful at prediction and guiding action because its best theories are true (or approximately true or increasing in their degree of truth). If science is in the business of doing its best to generate true theories, then we should turn to those theories for explanatory knowledge, predictions, and guidance of our actions and decisions. Views that are popular in contemporary philosophy of science…Read more
  •  647
    What Constitutes an Explanation in Biology?
    In Kostas Kampourakis & Tobias Uller (eds.), Philosophy of Science for Biologists, Cambridge University Press. 2019.
    One of biology's fundamental aims is to generate understanding of the living world around—and within—us. In this chapter, I aim to provide a relatively nonpartisan discussion of the nature of explanation in biology, grounded in widely shared philosophical views about scientific explanation. But this discussion also reflects what I think is important for philosophers and biologists alike to appreciate about successful scientific explanations, so some points will be controversial, at least among p…Read more
  •  564
    True Enough (review)
    Philosophical Review 128 (3): 363-366. 2019.
  •  474
    Biological Explanation
    In Kostas Kampourakis (ed.), The Philosophy of Biology: a Companion for Educators, Springer. pp. 49-65. 2013.
    One of the central aims of science is explanation: scientists seek to uncover why things happen the way they do. This chapter addresses what kinds of explanations are formulated in biology, how explanatory aims influence other features of the field of biology, and the implications of all of this for biology education. Philosophical treatments of scientific explanation have been both complicated and enriched by attention to explanatory strategies in biology. Most basically, whereas traditional ph…Read more
  •  470
    Defusing Ideological Defenses in Biology
    BioScience 63 (2): 118-123. 2013.
    Ideological language is widespread in theoretical biology. Evolutionary game theory has been defended as a worldview and a leap of faith, and sexual selection theory has been criticized for what it posits as basic to biological nature. Views such as these encourage the impression of ideological rifts in the field. I advocate an alternative interpretation, whereby many disagreements between different camps of biologists merely reflect methodological differences. This interpretation provides a mor…Read more
  •  464
    Toward Philosophy of Science’s Social Engagement
    Erkenntnis 79 (Suppl 5): 901-916. 2013.
    In recent years, philosophy of science has witnessed a significant increase in attention directed toward the field’s social relevance. This is demonstrated by the formation of societies with related agendas, the organization of research symposia, and an uptick in work on topics of immediate public interest. The collection of papers that follows results from one such event: a 3-day colloquium on the subject of socially engaged philosophy of science (SEPOS) held at the University of Cincinnati in …Read more
  •  442
    Critical Notice: Perspectival Realism (review)
    Philosophical Quarterly 74 (1): 355-363. 2023.
    There’s a recurrent divide among philosophical views about science—those focused on practice vs. those focused on metaphysics, assertions of pluralism vs. assertions of realism, accounts of how science’s history could have gone otherwise vs. accounts of how science achieves knowledge. Michela Massimi’s Perspectival Realism is ultimately a bridging project, aiming to cross this divide. The project is to recruit resources from perspectivism, a kind of pluralism about science, to show how science a…Read more
  •  400
    “Participatory research” is an umbrella term for a wide variety of scientific research projects that include participation of members of the lay public beyond simply using humans as “subjects” of research. In this chapter, we begin by surveying the variety of participatory research approaches across fields. We examine the goals of participatory research projects, including social and scientific value. Next, we apply a theoretical framework to challenges that participatory research faces. We then…Read more
  •  345
    In his chapter in this volume, Christopher Pincock develops an argument for scientific realism based on scientific understanding, and he argues that Giere’s (2006) and my (2017, 2020) commitment to the context-dependence of scientific understanding or knowledge renders our views unable to account for an essential step in how scientists come to know. Meanwhile, in my chapter in this volume, I motivate a view that I call "causal pattern realism." In this response to Pincock's chapter, I will sketc…Read more
  •  298
    Antireductionism Has Outgrown Levels
    In Alastair Wilson & Katie Robertson (eds.), Levels of Explanation, Oxford University Press. forthcoming.
    Positing levels of explanation has played an important role in philosophy of science. This facilitated the advocacy of antireductionism of explanations, which, at its most basic, is the idea that scientific explanations citing large (i.e. non-microphysical) entities will persist. The idea that explanations come in levels captures important features of explanatory practices, and it also does well at helping to define different positions one might take regarding explanatory reductionism or antired…Read more
  •  255
    A wide variety of scientific research projects include public participation in roles going beyond the classic use of subjects in human subjects research. “Participatory research” is an umbrella term for such projects. In this chapter, we begin by surveying the variety of participatory research approaches across fields. We examine what goals participatory research projects seek to achieve, both of social and scientific value. Next, we apply this theoretical framework to challenges that participat…Read more