•  617
    No understanding without explanation
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3): 510-515. 2013.
    Scientific understanding, this paper argues, can be analyzed entirely in terms of a mental act of “grasping” and a notion of explanation. To understand why a phenomenon occurs is to grasp a correct explanation of the phenomenon. To understand a scientific theory is to be able to construct, or at least to grasp, a range of potential explanations in which that theory accounts for other phenomena. There is no route to scientific understanding, then, that does not go by way of scientific explanation…Read more
  •  336
    The Explanatory Role of Irreducible Properties
    Noûs 46 (4): 754-780. 2012.
    I aim to reconcile two apparently conflicting theses: (a) Everything that can be explained, can be explained in purely physical terms, that is, using the machinery of fundamental physics, and (b) some properties that play an explanatory role in the higher level sciences are irreducible in the strong sense that they are physically undefinable: their nature cannot be described using the vocabulary of physics. I investigate the contribution that physically undefinable properties typically make to ex…Read more
  •  242
    Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation
    Harvard University Press. 2008.
    Approaches to explanation -- Causal and explanatory relevance -- The kairetic account of /D making -- The kairetic account of explanation -- Extending the kairetic account -- Event explanation and causal claims -- Regularity explanation -- Abstraction in regularity explanation -- Approaches to probabilistic explanation -- Kairetic explanation of frequencies -- Kairetic explanation of single outcomes -- Looking outward -- Looking inward.
  •  225
    The two major modern accounts of explanation are the causal and unification accounts. My aim in this paper is to provide a kind of unification of the causal and the unification accounts, by using the central technical apparatus of the unification account to solve a central problem faced by the causal account, namely, the problem of determining which parts of a causal network are explanatorily relevant to the occurrence of an explanandum. The end product of my investigation is a causal account of…Read more
  •  224
    Physically contingent laws and counterfactual support
    Philosophers' Imprint 8 1-20. 2008.
    The generalizations found in biology, psychology, sociology, and other high-level sciences are typically physically contingent. You might conclude that they play only a limited role in scientific investigation, on the grounds that physically contingent generalizations offer no or only feeble counterfactual support. But the link between contingency and counterfactual support is more complex than is commonly supposed. A certain class of physically contingent generalizations, comprising many, perha…Read more
  •  209
    Inferring probabilities from symmetries
    Noûs 32 (2): 231-246. 1998.
    This paper justifies the inference of probabilities from symmetries. I supply some examples of important and correct inferences of this variety. Two explanations of such inferences -- an explanation based on the Principle of Indifference and a proposal due to Poincaré and Reichenbach -- are considered and rejected. I conclude with my own account, in which the inferences in question are shown to be warranted a posteriori, provided that they are based on symmetries in the mechanisms of chance setu…Read more
  •  182
    Theoretical terms without analytic truths
    Philosophical Studies 160 (1): 167-190. 2012.
    When new theoretical terms are introduced into scientific discourse, prevailing accounts imply, analytic or semantic truths come along with them, by way of either definitions or reference-fixing descriptions. But there appear to be few or no analytic truths in scientific theory, which suggests that the prevailing accounts are mistaken. This paper looks to research on the psychology of natural kind concepts to suggest a new account of the introduction of theoretical terms that avoids both definit…Read more
  •  169
    The three cardinal aims of science are prediction, control, and explanation; but the greatest of these is explanation. Also the most inscrutable: prediction aims at truth, and control at happiness, and insofar as we have some independent grasp of these notions, we can evaluate science’s strategies of prediction and control from the outside. Explanation, by contrast, aims at scientific understanding, a good intrinsic to science and therefore something that it seems we can only look to science its…Read more
  •  167
    Does the Bayesian theory of confirmation put real constraints on our inductive behavior? Or is it just a framework for systematizing whatever kind of inductive behavior we prefer? Colin Howson (Hume's Problem) has recently championed the second view. I argue that he is wrong, in that the Bayesian apparatus as it is usually deployed does constrain our judgments of inductive import, but also that he is right, in that the source of Bayesianism's inductive prescriptions is not the Bayesian machinery…Read more
  •  163
    Quantum Mechanics and Frequentism: A Reply to Ismael
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (4): 575-577. 1996.
  •  161
    Probability Out Of Determinism
    In Claus Beisbart & Stephan Hartmann (eds.), Probabilities in Physics, Oxford University Press. pp. 339--364. 2011.
    This paper offers a metaphysics of physical probability in (or if you prefer, truth conditions for probabilistic claims about) deterministic systems based on an approach to the explanation of probabilistic patterns in deterministic systems called the method of arbitrary functions. Much of the appeal of the method is its promise to provide an account of physical probability on which probability assignments have the ability to support counterfactuals about frequencies. It is argued that the eponym…Read more
  •  147
    The Role of the Priority Rule in Science
    Journal of Philosophy 100 (2): 55-79. 2003.
    Science's priority rule rewards those who are first to make a discovery, at the expense of all other scientists working towards the same goal, no matter how close they may be to making the same discovery. I propose an explanation of the priority rule that, better than previous explanations, accounts for the distinctive features of the rule. My explanation treats the priority system, and more generally, any scheme of rewards for scientific endeavor, as a device for achieving an allocation of reso…Read more
  •  145
    Comments on Woodward, Making Things Happen
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (1): 171-192. 2008.
    No Abstract
  •  142
    Review of Woodward, M aking Things Happen (review)
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1). 2007.
    The concept of causation plays a central role in many philosophical theories, and yet no account of causation has gained widespread acceptance among those who have investigated its foundations. Theories based on laws, counterfactuals, physical processes, and probabilistic dependence and independence relations (the list is by no means exhaustive) have all received detailed treatment in recent years---{}and, while no account has been entirely successful, it is generally agreed that the concept has…Read more
  •  133
    The Role of the Matthew Effect in Science
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (2): 159-170. 2006.
    Robert Merton observed that better-known scientists tend to get more credit than less well-known scientists for the same achievements; he called this the Matthew effect. Scientists themselves, even those eminent researchers who enjoy its benefits, regard the effect as a pathology: it results, they believe, in a misallocation of credit. If so, why do scientists continue to bestow credit in the manner described by the effect? This paper advocates an explanation of the effect on which it turns out …Read more
  •  133
    The bayesian treatment of auxiliary hypotheses
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (3): 515-537. 2001.
    This paper examines the standard Bayesian solution to the Quine–Duhem problem, the problem of distributing blame between a theory and its auxiliary hypotheses in the aftermath of a failed prediction. The standard solution, I argue, begs the question against those who claim that the problem has no solution. I then provide an alternative Bayesian solution that is not question-begging and that turns out to have some interesting and desirable properties not possessed by the standard solution. This s…Read more
  •  132
    Special-Science Autonomy and the Division of Labor
    In Mark Couch & Jessica Pfeifer (eds.), The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher, . forthcoming.
    Philip Kitcher has advocated and advanced an influential antireductionist picture of science on which the higher-level sciences pursue their aims largely independently of the lower-level sciences -- a view of the sciences as autonomous. Explanatory autonomy as Kitcher understands it is incompatible with explanatory reductionism, the view that a high-level explanation is inevitably improved by providing a lower-level explanation of its parts. This paper explores an alternative conception of auton…Read more
  •  128
    Mackie Remixed
    In J. K. Campbell, M. O'Rourke & H. S. Silverstein (eds.), Causation and Explanation, Mit Press. pp. 4--93. 2007.
    Cases of overdetermination or preemption continue to play an important role in the debate about the proper interpretation of causal claims of the form "C was a cause of E". I argue that the best treatment of preemption cases is given by Mackie's venerable INUS account of causal claims. The Mackie account suffers, however, from problems of its own. Inspired by its ability to handle preemption, I propose a dramatic revision to the Mackie account – one that Mackie himself would certainly have rejec…Read more
  •  121
    The Bayesian approach to the philosophy of science
    In D. M. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, second edition, Macmillan Reference. pp. 495--502. 2006.
    The posthumous publication, in 1763, of Thomas Bayes’ “Essay Towards Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances” inaugurated a revolution in the understanding of the confirmation of scientific hypotheses—two hundred years later. Such a long period of neglect, followed by such a sweeping revival, ensured that it was the inhabitants of the latter half of the twentieth century above all who determined what it was to take a “Bayesian approach” to scientific reasoning.
  •  117
    Ceteris Paribus Hedges: Causal Voodoo that Works
    Journal of Philosophy 109 (11): 652-675. 2012.
    What do the words "ceteris paribus" add to a causal hypothesis, that is, to a generalization that is intended to articulate the consequences of a causal mechanism? One answer, which looks almost too good to be true, is that a ceteris paribus hedge restricts the scope of the hypothesis to those cases where nothing undermines, interferes with, or undoes the effect of the mechanism in question, even if the hypothesis's own formulator is otherwise unable to specify fully what might constitute such u…Read more
  •  114
    Objective probability as a guide to the world
    Philosophical Studies 95 (3): 243-275. 1999.
    According to principles of probability coordination, such as Miller's Principle or Lewis's Principal Principle, you ought to set your subjective probability for an event equal to what you take to be the objective probability of the event. For example, you should expect events with a very high probability to occur and those with a very low probability not to occur. This paper examines the grounds of such principles. It is argued that any attempt to justify a principle of probability coordination …Read more
  •  113
    How are the sciences of complex systems possible?
    Philosophy of Science 72 (4): 531-556. 2005.
    To understand the behavior of a complex system, you must understand the interactions among its parts. Doing so is difficult for non-decomposable systems, in which the interactions strongly influence the short-term behavior of the parts. Science's principal tool for dealing with non-decomposable systems is a variety of probabilistic analysis that I call EPA. I show that EPA's power derives from an assumption that appears to be false of non-decomposable complex systems, in virtue of their very …Read more
  •  107
    Causality Reunified
    Erkenntnis 78 (2): 299-320. 2013.
    Hall has recently argued that there are two concepts of causality, picking out two different kinds of causal relation. McGrath, and Hitchcock and Knobe, have recently argued that the facts about causality depend on what counts as a “default” or “normal” state, or even on the moral facts. In the light of these claims you might be tempted to agree with Skyrms that causal relations constitute, metaphysically speaking, an “amiable jumble”, or with Cartwright that ‘causation’, though a single word, e…Read more
  •  107
    A closer look at the 'new' principle
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (4): 545-561. 1995.
    David Lewis, Michael Thau, and Ned Hall have recently argued that the Principal Principle—an inferential rule underlying much of our reasoning about probability—is inadequate in certain respects, and that something called the ‘New Principle’ ought to take its place. This paper argues that the Principle Principal need not be discarded. On the contrary, Lewis et al. can get everything they need—including the New Principle—from the intuitions and inferential habits that inspire the Principal Princi…Read more
  •  106
    Bayesian confirmation theory—abbreviated to in these notes—is the predominant approach to confirmation in late twentieth century philosophy of science. It has many critics, but no rival theory can claim anything like the same following. The popularity of the Bayesian approach is due to its flexibility, its apparently effortless handling of various technical problems, the existence of various a priori arguments for its validity, and its injection of subjective and contextual elements into the proces…Read more
  •  105
    The bayesian treatment of auxiliary hypotheses: Reply to Fitelson and Waterman
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56 (4): 913-918. 2005.
    Bayesian treatment of auxiliary hypotheses rests on a misinterpretation of Strevens's central claim about the negligibility of certain small probabilities. The present paper clarifies and proves a very general version of the claim. The project Clarifications The negligibility argument Generalization and proof.
  •  92
    How Idealizations Provide Understanding
    In Stephen Grimm, Christoph Baumberger & Sabine Ammon (eds.), Explaining Understanding: New Essays in Epistemology and the Philosophy of Science, Routledge. forthcoming.
    How can a model that stops short of representing the whole truth about the causal production of a phenomenon help us to understand the phenomenon? I answer this question from the perspective of what I call the simple view of understanding, on which to understand a phenomenon is to grasp a correct explanation of the phenomenon. Idealizations, I have argued in previous work, flag factors that are casually relevant but explanatorily irrelevant to the phenomena to be explained. Though useful to the …Read more
  •  91
    Objective evidence and absence: Comment on Sober
    Philosophical Studies 143 (1). 2009.
    Elliott Sober argues that the statistical slogan “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” cannot be taken literally: it must be interpreted charitably as claiming that the absence of evidence is (typically) not very much evidence of absence. I offer an alternative interpretation, on which the slogan claims that absence of evidence is (typically) not objective evidence of absence. I sketch a definition of objective evidence, founded in the notion of an epistemically objective likelihood, …Read more
  •  89
    The Essentialist Aspect of Naive Theories
    Cognition 74 (149): 175. 2000.
    Recent work on children’s inferences concerning biological and chemical categories has suggested that children (and perhaps adults) are essentialists— a view known as psychological essentialism. I distinguish three varieties of psychological essentialism and investigate the ways in which essentialism explains the inferences for which it is supposed to account. Essentialism succeeds in explaining the inferences, I argue, because it attributes to the child belief in causal laws connecting category…Read more