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Lecture 5

Philosophy 2300F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill, Deductive-Nomological Model, Logical Positivism

Course Code
PHIL 2300F/G
Steve Bland

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Explanation and Unification
- scientific theories must be capable of making empirical predictions about what we do
not yet know- they must be verifiable and/or falsifiable
- they should explain things that we already know
- scientific theories should not only make predictions about how things will behave, but
explain why thing have behaved the way they have
- an explanation should facilitate our understanding of why the world is the way it is
- if an explanation is overly complex or difficult to follow, then we don’t think of it as a
good explanation
- it does not facilitate our understanding of the phenomenon in question
- this doesn’t seem true of scientific explanations
- i may not be able to follow a physicist’s explanation of why really hot metals emit red
light, but that doesnt necessarily mean that its a bad explanation - it might be a
textbook explanation but i’m just too dull to understand it
- think of a scientific theory or principle that explains some known phenomenon
- what is it about the theory or principle that allows it to explain the phenomenon
- what do highly successful scientific explanations have in common?
- they unify a set of seemingly diverse phenomena
- newtonian physics unified the terrestrial and celestial realms
- the theory of natural selection unified the realms of the physical and the purposeful
- put forward general laws that are obeyed by a seemingly diverse set of natural
- every body in the universe obeys the same law of gravity that applies to terrestrial
- every living thing is subject to the law of natural selection
- the greater the number of things things that obey a natural law, the more explanatory
power a theory has
- logical positivists claim that the end goal of science is to produce the most general,
natural laws possible
- they wanted not only to unify natural phenomena, but to unify science itself
- done by reducing more specific laws about particular phenomena to general laws that
hold of all natural phenomena
- where will these general laws come from
- physics- the study of all things physical, therefore it is the study of all things
- biological traits < genes < molecules < atoms < subatomic particles
Deductive- Nomological Model
- explanations effect unifications by subsuming natural phenomena under scientific laws

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- scientists effect explanations by logically deriving facts about natural phenomena from
general laws, together with the requisite collateral information, ie statements about the
initial conditions of the phenomena
- the explanation prediction summery thesis: any acceptable explanation of a particular
fact is an argument that could have been used to predict the fact in question
- the deductive-nomological model of explanation (nomos is a greek word meaning
lawful) sometimes called the covering law model
- can be used to explain what we already know
what conditions must an explanatory argument meet?
- it must be sound, which is to say that it must be logically valid and all of its premises
must be true
- the premises must include at least one general law that is essential to the deduction of
the conclusion
- the premises must be empirically testable
condition 1
- ruseld out false non-explanations
- if the conclusion of the argument doesnt follow the premeses
- rules out non-explanatory arguments of the following kind
- all free falling bodies have constant acceleration
- it rained on monday
- therefore it rained on monday
- of course 3 follows from 2 alone in which case the general law enunicated by 1 is
doing nothing in the explanation you could substitute any statement for 1
- rules out non empirical explanations that appeal to supernatural and or pseudo-
scientific principles
- why did sarah lose consciousness and go into convulsions
- persons lose consciousness an go into convulstions when inhabited by
- sarah
- the adequacy of an explanation in no way depends on any person’s interests or state
of knowledge
- i may not understand or ask for the scientists explanation of the sky blue colour, but it
is a good explanation nevertheless
- scientific ecplanations need not facilitate understanding or acceptance in their
audience they need only derive facts from natural laws
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