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Micro-level model explanation and counterfactual constraint

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Relationships of counterfactual dependence have played a major role in recent debates of explanation and understanding in the philosophy of science. Usually, counterfactual dependencies have been viewed as the explanantia of explanation, i.e., the things providing explanation and understanding. Sometimes, however, counterfactual dependencies are themselves the targets of explanations in science. These kinds of explanations are the focus of this paper. I argue that “micro-level model explanations” explain the particular form of the empirical regularity underlying a counterfactual dependency by representing it as a physical necessity on the basis of postulated microscopic entities. By doing so, micro-level models rule out possible forms the regularity (and the associated counterfactual) could have taken. Micro-model explanations, in other words, constrain empirical regularities and their associated counterfactual dependencies. I introduce and illustrate micro-level model explanations in detail, contrast them to other accounts of explanation, and consider potential problems.

TidsskriftEuropean Journal for Philosophy of Science
StatusUdgivet - jun. 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
I thank the two anonymous referees for this journal for their detailed critical remarks, which helped to improve the paper tremendously. I’m also grateful to Kareem Khalifa, Daniel Kostić, and Insa Lawler, who kindly read distant relatives of this paper and made me rethink the framing of my paper. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the Workshop on Understanding from Models at the IHPST in Paris (2017), the EPSA 2017 in Exeter, the research colloquium at Simon Fraser University (2019), and the Cognitive Science Research Group seminar at the New College of the Humanities, London (2019). I thank the audiences at each of these talks for their valuable feedback.

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© 2022, Springer Nature B.V.

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