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Explanation and Invariance in the Special Sciences

Woodward, James (2000) Explanation and Invariance in the Special Sciences. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 51 (2). pp. 197-254. ISSN 0007-0882 . http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20111209-133957242

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Abstract

This paper describes an alternative to the common view that explanation in the special sciences involves subsumption under laws. According to this alternative, whether or not a generalization can be used to explain has to do with whether it is invariant rather than with whether it is lawful. A generalization is invariant if it is stable or robust in the sense that it would continue to hold under a relevant if it is stable or robust in the sense that it would continue to hold under a relevant class of changes. Unlike lawfulness, invariance comes in degrees and has other features that are well suited to capture the characteristics of explanatory generalizations in the special sciences. For example, a generalization can be invariant even if it has exceptions or holds only over a limited spatio-temporal interval. The notion of invariance can be used to resolve a number of dilemmas that arise in standard treatments of explanatory generalizations in the special sciences.


Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/51.2.197DOIUNSPECIFIED
http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org/content/51/2/197.abstractPublisherUNSPECIFIED
Additional Information:© 2000 British Society for the Philosophy of Science. Thanks to Nancy Cartwright, Lindley Darden, Dan Hausman, Chris Hitchcock, Paul Humprey, Marc Lange, and Judea Pearl for helpful conversation and comments and to three anonymous referees for constructive criticisms. Research for this paper was supported by a grant from National Science Foundation (SBR-9320097).
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Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSFSBR-9320097
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20111209-133957242
Persistent URL:http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20111209-133957242
Official Citation:Explanation and invariance in the special sciences Br J Philos Sci (2000) 51(2): 197-254 doi:10.1093/bjps/51.2.197
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:28401
Collection:CaltechAUTHORS
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:09 Dec 2011 21:59
Last Modified:09 Dec 2011 21:59

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