•  1194
    High-Level Explanation and the Interventionist’s ‘Variables Problem’
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (2): 553-577. 2016.
    The interventionist account of causal explanation, in the version presented by Jim Woodward, has been recently claimed capable of buttressing the widely felt—though poorly understood—hunch that high-level, relatively abstract explanations, of the sort provided by sciences like biology, psychology and economics, are in some cases explanatorily optimal. It is the aim of this paper to show that this is mistaken. Due to a lack of effective constraints on the causal variables at the heart of the inte…Read more
  •  1153
    Exploratory experiments
    Philosophy of Science 72 (5): 888-899. 2005.
    Philosophers of experiment have acknowledged that experiments are often more than mere hypothesis-tests, once thought to be an experiment's exclusive calling. Drawing on examples from contemporary biology, I make an additional amendment to our understanding of experiment by examining the way that `wide' instrumentation can, for reasons of efficiency, lead scientists away from traditional hypothesis-directed methods of experimentation and towards exploratory methods.
  •  1060
    This paper critiques the new mechanistic explanatory program on grounds that, even when applied to the kinds of examples that it was originally designed to treat, it does not distinguish correct explanations from those that blunder. First, I offer a systematization of the explanatory account, one according to which explanations are mechanistic models that satisfy three desiderata: they must 1) represent causal relations, 2) describe the proper parts, and 3) depict the system at the right ‘level.…Read more
  •  825
    Natural kinds as categorical bottlenecks
    Philosophical Studies 172 (4): 925-948. 2015.
    Both realist and anti-realist accounts of natural kinds possess prima facie virtues: realists can straightforwardly make sense of the apparent objectivity of the natural kinds, and anti-realists, their knowability. This paper formulates a properly anti-realist account designed to capture both merits. In particular, it recommends understanding natural kinds as ‘categorical bottlenecks,’ those categories that not only best serve us, with our idiosyncratic aims and cognitive capacities, but also th…Read more
  •  657
    Among the factors necessary for the occurrence of some event, which of these are selectively highlighted in its explanation and labeled as causes — and which are explanatorily omitted, or relegated to the status of background conditions? Following J. S. Mill, most have thought that only a pragmatic answer to this question was possible. In this paper I suggest we understand this ‘causal selection problem’ in causal-explanatory terms, and propose that explanatory trade-offs between abstraction and…Read more
  •  417
    Bacteria, sex, and systematics
    Philosophy of Science 74 (1): 69-95. 2007.
    Philosophical discussions of species have focused on multicellular, sexual animals and have often neglected to consider unicellular organisms like bacteria. This article begins to fill this gap by considering what species concepts, if any, apply neatly to the bacterial world. First, I argue that the biological species concept cannot be applied to bacteria because of the variable rates of genetic transfer between populations, depending in part on which gene type is prioritized. Second, I present …Read more
  •  349
    The Animal Sexes as Historical Explanatory Kinds
    In Shamik Dasgupta, Ravit Dotan & Brad Weslake (eds.), Current Controversies in Philosophy of Science, Routledge. pp. 177-197. 2020.
    Though biologists identify individuals as ‘male’ or ‘female’ across a broad range of animal species, the particular traits exhibited by males and females can vary tremendously. This diversity has led some to conclude that cross-animal sexes (males, or females, of whatever animal species) have “little or no explanatory power” (Dupré 1986: 447) and, thus, are not natural kinds in any traditional sense. This essay will explore considerations for and against this conclusion, ultimately arguing that …Read more
  •  266
    Trashing life’s tree
    Biology and Philosophy 25 (4): 689-709. 2010.
    The Tree of Life has traditionally been understood to represent the history of species lineages. However, recently researchers have suggested that it might be better interpreted as representing the history of cellular lineages, sometimes called the Tree of Cells. This paper examines and evaluates reasons offered against this cellular interpretation of the Tree of Life. It argues that some such reasons are bad reasons, based either on a false attribution of essentialism, on a misunderstanding of …Read more
  •  263
    Philosophical theories of explanation characterize the difference between correct and incorrect explanations. While remaining neutral as to which of these ‘first-order’ theories is right, this paper asks the ‘meta-explanatory’ question: is the difference between correct and incorrect explanation real, i.e., objective or mind-independent? After offering a framework for distinguishing realist from anti-realist views, I sketch three distinct paths to explanatory anti-realism.
  •  173
    The Causal Economy Approach to Scientific Explanation
    Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. forthcoming.
    This paper sketches a causal account of scientific explanation designed to sustain the judgment that high-level, detail-sparse explanations—particularly those offered in biology—can be at least as explanatorily valuable as lower-level counterparts. The motivating idea is that complete explanations maximize causal economy: they cite those aspects of an event’s causal run-up that offer the biggest-bang-for-your-buck, by costing less (in virtue of being abstract) and delivering more (in virtue maki…Read more
  •  19
    Il macellaio di Platone [English Title: Plato's Joints]
    Rivista di Estetica 41 11-37. 2009.
    Plato‘s often-quoted statement in the Phaedrus that we should 'cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints' (265e) has been an influential metaphor in discussions of natural kinds. In this essay, I investigate the source domain of the metaphor, the joints of the animal body, to determine whether, as users of the metaphor often assume, there is just one scientifically legitimate division of the body into component skeletal parts. Through an examination of animal joints from…Read more