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Change-relating invariance

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 by Jenny

Here’s a question that Yasha and I were talking about yesterday that, as far as I know, neither of us has resolved.

Walsh writes that citing a change-relation invariance “discharges the metaphysical function of a good explanation.”  But why should we think that citing a change-relation invariance tells us anything metaphysical–especially when the subject matter are statistical concepts, whose referents may not actually exist?

Ideas?

Jenny

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2 Responses to “Change-relating invariance”

  1. I think what Walsh means by ‘discharging the metaphysical funciton of a good explanation’ is not that the statistical explanation will tell us something metaphysical in the sense you are thinking, but only that noncasual change-relation invariance tells us about the explanans conditions that when they hold the explanandum does too. In other words, it isn’t that the statistical explanans tells us something about the nature of the world, but it does satisfy (and in that sense dispense) with the requirements set out by the mechanistic account of that metaphysical function.

    I think Walsh is arguing in the previous paragraph that the metaphysical function of a good explanation will be satisfied whenever we have a change-relation invariance- but that need not be a causal relation. “The metaphysical function (roughly) is to identify a set of conditions in the world—the explanans conditions—such that when they hold the explanandum does too.” Walsh’s point is that this is accomplished whenever we have a change-relation invariance (according to Woodward’s account) and that we can have that without the explanans being causal. This may not tell us much about the nature of the world, but it does seem to satisfy the requirement as it is characterized under Woodward’s account.

  2. Collin,

    Thanks for your response.

    You quote Walsh as saying the following (of Woodward’s metaphysical condition): “The metaphysical function (roughly) is to identify a set of conditions in the world—the explanans conditions—such that when they hold the explanandum does too.” And you interpret Walsh as saying that because statistical explanations identify a set of conditions about the world that are true when the explanandum is true, then statistical explanations satisfy Woodward’s metaphysical function.

    I have two points to make about this. First, this account allows for the explanans to be true, in certain cases, only when the explanandum is true (that is, when X is true iff Y is true and vice versa). But we don’t want to say that the explanandum explains the explanans. Isn’t this a problem with his criterion?

    Second, it seems that Woodward’s account does require our explanations to make metaphysical claims: “…identify a set of conditions in the world…”, not “…identify a set of conditions about the world…” Thus, because the conditions actually have to exist in the world, Woodward seems to be saying that explanations do, in fact, have to make metaphysical claims, in which case, I don’t understand how statistical explanations meet this criterion.

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