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Abstraction and its Limits: finding space for novel explanation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-60
JournalNOUS
Volume50
Issue number1
Early online date24 Sep 2015
DOIs
Accepted/In press10 Nov 2014
E-pub ahead of print24 Sep 2015
PublishedMar 2016

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Abstract

Several modern accounts of explanation acknowledge the importance of abstraction and idealization for our explanatory practice. However, once we allow a role for abstraction, questions remain. I ask whether the relation between explanations at different theoretical levels should be thought of wholly in terms of abstraction, and argue that changes of variable between theories can lead to novel explanations that are not merely abstractions of some more detailed picture. I use the example of phase transitions as described by statistical mechanics and thermodynamics to illustrate this, and to demonstrate some details of the relationship between abstraction, idealization, and novel explanation.

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