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The Roles of Possibility and Mechanism in Narrative Explanation

Swaim, Daniel G. (2018) The Roles of Possibility and Mechanism in Narrative Explanation. In: UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

There is a fairly longstanding distinction between what are called the ideographic as opposed to nomothetic sciences. The nomothetic sciences, such as physics, offer up explanations in terms of the laws and regular operations of nature. The ideographic sciences, such as natural history (or, more controversially, evolutionary biology), cast explanations in terms of narratives. This paper offers an account of what is involved in offering an explanatory narrative in the historical (ideographic) sciences. I argue that narrative explanations involve two chief components: a possibility space and an explanatory causal mechanism. The possibility space is an ineluctable consequence of the fact that the presently available evidence underdetermines the true historical sequence from an epistemic perspective. But the introduction of an adequate causal mechanism gives us a reason to favor one causal history over another; that is, causal mechanisms enhance our epistemic position in the face of widespread underdetermination. This work stands in contrast to some recent work that has argued against the use of mechanisms in some narrative contexts. I argue instead that an adequate causal mechanism is always involved in narrative explanation, or else we do not have an explanation at all.


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Swaim, Daniel G.dswaim@sas.upenn.edu
Keywords: narrative explanation; mechanisms; possibility; historical science; abiogenesis; scientific explanation
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Depositing User: Daniel Swaim
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2018 20:37
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2018 20:37
Item ID: 14744
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Date: 2018
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/14744

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