Scientific Explanations, Competing and Conjunctive

June 26, 2019 - June 28, 2019
Department of Philosophy, University of Utah

215 S. Central Campus Drive
Salt Lake City 84112
United States

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • John Templeton Foundation. Grant #61115: “Conjunctive Explanations: How Science and Religion Can Work Together”. This project is a collaboration between the University of Utah, Ulster University, and Queen’s University Belfast
  • Department of Philosophy, University of Utah. Annual Conference Series
  • Tanner Humanities Center, University of Utah

Keynote speakers:

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
University of Groningen
University of California, Irvine
Rhode Island College


University of Ulster
University of Utah

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In research on the nature of scientific explanation, philosophers argue that the same explanandum may have associated with it a multiplicity of explanantia. This claim is most plausible perhaps when it comes to cases of so-called explanatory pluralism, cases in which numerous explanations each do qualitatively different explanatory work. An object’s existence can be explained either by referring to its causes or its function. One hypothesis may explain an event by telling us a causal-mechanical story leading up to the event, while another may perhaps explain the same event by referring to a nomic regularity that the event instantiates. Cases of such "explanatory multiplicity" are often used to defend a general pluralism regarding the nature of scientific explanation.

Such views on the nature of explanation seem to be in tension with a common feature of models of explanatory reasoning in philosophy of science, computer science, and cognitive science: the assumption that when we reason explanatorily, we reason between competing explanations. Explanatory forms of scientific reasoning such as Inference to the Best Explanation (or abductive inference) and Explaining-Away are often cast as applying only to competing hypotheses. But if explanatory multiplicity is truly a common phenomenon in the sciences, then why should our models of scientific, explanatory reasoning only compare potential explanations that compete? Indeed, in cases of explanatory multiplicity, it would seem desirable for such models not only to allow us to compare non-competing explanations but also to guide us in inferring them conjointly as "conjunctive explanations".

This conference will be a three-day exploration of these and related issues. Submissions are especially welcome on the nature and/or epistemology of scientific explanation, including work involving computer simulations. Questions of specific interest that such papers might address include the following:

  • What is a scientific explanation, and is there one true account? What reasons may be given for or against explanatory multiplicity and/or explanatory pluralism in the sciences?
  • What distinguishes explanations? When is it appropriate to say that two explanations are actually one and the same (or part of the same) versus distinct?
  • How should explanatory multiplicity be accounted for in models of scientific explanation?  Do Inference to the Best Explanation, Explaining-Away, and other formal models of scientific reasoning essentially compare competing hypotheses, or can they be stated in terms of conjunctive explanations?
  • Under what epistemic conditions do distinct explanations constitute conjunctive (rather than competing) explanations? What does it mean for explanatory hypotheses to compete?
  • How can computer simulations of scientific reasoning shed light on the role of explanation? How can conjunctive and competing explanations be modeled in simulations of this kind?
  • What historical cases can be given of conjunctive explanations at work in scientific thought? What logical, formal epistemological, philosophical, etc. reasons can be put forward for validating and clarifying the role of conjunctive explanations in scientific practice?

This workshop will be of special interest to philosophers of science (general and specialized), formal epistemologists, computer scientists, cognitive scientists, and historians of scientific thought. But it is open to anyone.

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June 25, 2019, 8:00pm MST

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1 person is attending:

Jonah N. Schupbach

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