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What Constitutes an Explanation in Biology?

Potochnik, Angela (2020) What Constitutes an Explanation in Biology? [Preprint]

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Abstract

One of biology's fundamental aims is to generate understanding of the living world around—and within—us. In this chapter, I aim to provide a relatively nonpartisan discussion of the nature of explanation in biology, grounded in widely shared philosophical views about scientific explanation. But this discussion also reflects what I think is important for philosophers and biologists alike to appreciate about successful scientific explanations, so some points will be controversial, at least among philosophers. I make three main points: (1) causal relationships and broad patterns have often been granted importance to scientific explanations, and they are in fact both important; (2) some explanations in biology cite the components of or processes in systems that account for the systems’ features, whereas other explanations feature large-scale or structural causes that influence a system; and (3) there can be multiple different explanations of a given biological phenomenon, explanations that respond to different research aims and can thus be compatible with one another even when they may seem to disagree.


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Item Type: Preprint
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Potochnik, Angela
Keywords: biology, explanation, idealization, causation
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Explanation
Depositing User: Angela Potochnik
Date Deposited: 12 May 2021 03:13
Last Modified: 12 May 2021 03:13
Item ID: 19027
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Explanation
Date: 2020
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19027

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