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The goal of this paper is to show how scientific explanation functions in the context of idealized models. It argues that the aspect of explanation most urgently requiring investigation is the nature of the connection between global theories and explanatory local models. This aspect is neglected in traditional accounts of explanation (Hempel 1965; Kitcher 1989). The paper examines causal, minimal model, and structural accounts of model-based explanation (Woodward 2003; Batterman and Rice 2014; Bokulich 2011). It argues that they too fail to offer an account of the connection with global theory that can justify the explanatory power of an idealized local model, and consequently these accounts are unable effectively to distinguish explanatory from non-explanatory models. On the account proposed here, scientific explanation requires theoretical integration between the local model described in the explanation and a global theory with independent explanatory power.
KeywordsExplanation Model Science Idealization
I am grateful to audiences at the EPSA (2013), LMU Munich ("Explanation Beyond Causation," 2014) and Notre Dame ("Models and Simulations 6," 2014) for feedback on earlier versions of this project. Thanks also to two anonymous referees for helpful comments. This work was supported financially by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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