Reading Groups with Marc Lange


The meetings of the discussion group take place in room
1.A13, Richard-Strauss-Str. 2, 10:00 – 12:00.

All of the discussions will be based on a presentation by Marc.

November 29, 2013

Session 1: “’There sweep great general principles which all the laws seem to follow’”

Science recognizes an important distinction: between conservation laws as constraints on the fundamental forces there could be, on the one hand, and conservation laws as coincidences of the fundamental forces there happen to be, on the other hand. Whether they are constraints or coincidences would make an important difference to their role in scientific explanations. (The distinction between constraints and coincidences also applies to other laws besides the conservation laws.) I will elaborate the distinction between constraints and coincidences in terms of the truth of various counterfactual conditionals and situate that account in terms of my general view of laws of nature and natural necessity. Finally, I will argue that dispositional essentialism (as advocated recently by Bird, Ellis, and Mumford) must portray all conservation laws as coincidences, foreclosing options that science has (with good reason) taken seriously.

December 5, 2013

Session 2: “The explanatory power of (some) reducible physical properties”

Science (especially some special sciences) does not treat all reducible physical properties alike. Some combinations of other physical quantities (such as the center of mass) are regarded as possessing explanatory power of their own, whereas others are just arbitrary algebraic combinations of more fundamental physical properties. I will use some examples from science to motivate this distinction, and I will use some philosophical discussions (Dennett, Haugeland, Strevens) to show the need for an adequate account of this distinction. Then I will try to propose one. One kind of explanation in which some of these reducible properties figure is a kind that I discussed in Session 1. I will conclude by relating this account of explanatorily potent reducible properties to a feature of some explanations in mathematics – a kind of explanation that I will discuss in the upcoming Workshop.

December 9, 2013

Session 3: “Explanations by constraint”

Some scientific explanations (which I dub “explanations by constraint”) work not by describing the world’s causal relations, but rather by describing how the explanandum involves more-than-physical necessary by virtue of certain facts (“constraints”) that possess some variety of necessity stronger than ordinary causal laws possess. In Session 1, I gave my account of these varieties of necessity. Now we will focus on how explanations by constraint work. One example we will consider is how the spacetime coordinate transformations are explained. This may well take us into a discussion of Einstein’s famous distinction between “principle” and “constructive” theories. (He is widely regarded as having denied that theories of principle possess explanatory power. I disagree with this view — and don’t believe that it was Einstein’s.) The principal challenge in understanding these “top-down” explanations is to figure out what grounds the order of explanatory priority, considering that it is not the order of causal priority. I will offer a tentative proposal, but I hope that we discuss this together.