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Explanation and the Explanatory Gap

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  1. Chalmers argues that logical supervenience is not only necessary but also sufficient for reductive explanation, but for the purposes of this discussion, I will focus simply on the necessity claim.

  2. Thanks to Karen Neander for pressing this point.

  3. Though this is not always the case. See e.g. Railton (1978) on the explanation of low probability events.

  4. Note that this claim does not rest on the belief that one cannot deduce statistical claims, which is clearly false, but on the claim that statistical explanations do not necessarily involve the deduction of statistical claims.

  5. Some would reject the identification of levels with a distinction in fundamentality. I use this locution merely for illustrative purposes.

  6. For a different presentation of this syphilis-paresis case, see Salmon (1971), pp. 57.

  7. The original version of the D-N model is far more precise, and what I have offered here is more like a characterization of the explicandum that the D-N model aims at, rather than the model itself. There are also a number of qualifications to note for even this rough characterization, including restrictions on what counts as a law of nature and that the explanandum cannot itself be a general or law-like statement.

  8. Originally formulated by Bromberger although the specific flagpole case never appeared in his publications. Cases of a similar sort appear in Bromberger (1966)

  9. See for instance Chalmers’ discussion of research into the neural correlates on consciousness in Chalmers (1996), pp. 115–118

  10. Such as the case of emergence, discussed in Taylor (2015)


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Thanks to Stephen Biggs, Elizabeth Miller, Karen Neander, the audience at the Mountain Plains Philosophy Conference, and an anonymous referee for helpful discussion. Work on this paper was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, although views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Endowment.

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Correspondence to Elanor Taylor.

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Taylor, E. Explanation and the Explanatory Gap. Acta Anal 31, 77–88 (2016).

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  • Mechanistic Explanation
  • Special Science
  • Statistical Explanation
  • Phenomenal Concept
  • Conceptual Connection