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Explanatory Asymmetry in Non-Causal Explanation

Abstract

The problem of explanatory asymmetry remains a serious challenge for non-causal accounts of explanation. This paper proposes a novel solution, and it does so by appealing to the theoretical context in which an explanation is offered. The paper develops the problem of explanatory asymmetry for non-causal dependency accounts of explanation, focusing specifically on Alexander Reutlinger’s Counterfactual Theory of Explanation and recent work by Marc Lange and Lina Jansson. It defends the idea that nomological possibility with respect to a global theory is the right constraint on explanation, and it shows how this breaks the apparent symmetry in counterfactual dependence that is the source of the problem. This solution appeals to theoretical context, and the paper develops and defends the version of contextualism in explanation that is required.

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Notes

  1. Kareem Khalifa, Gabriel Doble, and Jared Millson have recently challenged this assumption and defended a pluralist approach to the sorts of modal claims underwriting scientific explanations (Khalifa, Doble et al. 2020).

  2. (Jansson 2015, 591–592) provides this sketch for the flagpole and shadow case. I have modified it to apply to the pendulum.

  3. I am grateful to Michael Strevens for bringing this point to my attention.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Paul Teller, Chris Pincock and Michael Strevens for comments on earlier versions of this project.

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Correspondence to Andrew Wayne.

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Wayne, A. Explanatory Asymmetry in Non-Causal Explanation. J Gen Philos Sci (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10838-021-09596-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10838-021-09596-w

Keywords

  • Scientific explanation
  • Explanatory asymmetry
  • Contextualism
  • Physics