Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 5, pp 1163–1182 | Cite as

Causal patterns and adequate explanations

  • Angela Potochnik


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 sense of several aspects of actual explanatory practice, including the widespread use of equilibrium explanations, the formulation of distinct explanations for a single event, and the tight relationship between explanations of events and explanations of causal regularities.


Scientific explanation Causal explanation Contrastive explanation Equilibrium explanation 



This paper was drafted during a Research Fellowship at the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, and it was completed with the help of a Charles Phelps Taft Summer Research Fellowship. The ideas have benefitted from the help of Michael Friedman, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Helen Longino, Elliott Sober, and Michael Strevens. Additionally, Chris Haufe, Robert Skipper, Elliott Sober, James Woodward, and the participants in a conference in honor of Elliott Sober’s 65th birthday, as well as several anonymous referees, have provided helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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