More material concerning our club discussion on scientific explanation

Thanks to everyone who attended and generated questions and input to our club discussion on scientific explanation on Wednesday, Feb. 24th!

// Here is the link to Nancy Cartwright’s discussion group and paper (to which I referred most of my material and criticism):

*Causality: Metaphysics and Methods – Discussion Papers:

*”From Causation to Explanation and Back” by Nancy Cartwright/ PDF … The download link is located midway in the page, about 9th from the bottom …

// Some key points extracted from the text:
— Cartwright: Hume taught that discussion of “causation” was metaphysics and should be disregarded, as did the Logical Positivists. But Carnap salvaged some important metaphysical concepts, urging that there are many concepts that appear to be in the ‘material mode’ but would be more perspicuously expressed in the ‘formal mode’ — ie, there are many concepts that seem to be directly about the world but are really instead about our own theories and descriptions of the world. Various concepts of causation came to be treated in this way.
— Cartwright: In the eager attempt (due to influence of Hume & Positivists) to rid science of the concept of causality, One standard strategy has been to ‘reduce it away’, ie, to eliminate all use of causal notions and define causation purely in terms of “regular association” plus some other non-causal concepts like “temporal succession” and “spatio-temporal contiguity”. Nowadays the demand for absolutely regular association has given way.
— Cartwright: We have seen a number of accounts of “causal-explanatory relevance”, and I noted that there are also a variety of different accounts of “singular causal explanation” on offer. Which is the correct one? I shall suggest that probably they all are – each for a different kind of causal relation.
— Cartwright: At the level of general causal relevance, I am a strong advocate of causal diversity. We need a background model of the kind of causal system we are dealing with and of the way by which the putative cause is supposed to operate before we can devise a test, or a characterisation, for it. This means that settling matters of causal relevance requires either a lot of antecedent knowledge or a reasonable success at bootstrapping. This makes causal testing difficult, but not impossible. To proceed, however, we need far better accounts of the kinds of causal systems we may encounter and the variety of ways that a cause may operate within them.
— Cartwright: This need is the basis for the three-year project “Causality: Metaphysics and Methods” now underway at LSE, funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Board.

— Question 1: How can Cartwright’s proposal for causal diversity in scientific explanation adequately address the historical problems associated with causation if such considerations are still formulated within a “causal” framework?
— Question 2: If we can come to terms with metaphysics playing a viable (though limited) role in the philosophy of science, then why couldn’t we expand the explanatory programme toward a wholistic approach (ie, where causation is but only a single component) that leans toward a phenomenological account of our world? That is, a phenomenological account of the diverse phenomena of our world may conceivably expand the explanatory programme beyond the confines of causation (at the same time, expanding the scope of empiricism). So by formulating a new approach to scientific explanation through a causal framework (which is how I am reading Cartwright’s proposal), are we not just shuffling around the same old causal problems into a new and diverse arrangement?

Thanks again, and see everyone at the next club function!



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