Michael Strevens and J.D. Trout on explanation and understanding in science (and beyond).
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In science and in ordinary life, we want to explain and understand features of the world around us. How can we tell a good explanation from a bad one? What’s the connection between explanation and understanding? Strevens and Trout begin with an overview of accounts of explanation developed in the philosophy of science during the 20th century. Then they discuss the interrelations between explanation, understanding, grasping, and knowing (5:26). Next, they discuss Trout’s views on the role of empathy in explanation and understanding (16:35), evolutionary psychology in social science (21:37), and “the trap of the sense of understanding” (24:30). Then they turn to the practical benefits of explanation (37:11) and Strevens’s work on the level of detail in a good explanation (44:18). They conclude by discussing explanation outside of science (51:50).
Joel Velasco and Matthew Haber on biological systematics.
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Biological systematics is about the classification of life given the diverse evolutionary history, morphology, and genetic features of living things. In this episode, Haber and Velasco discuss a range of philosophical issues raised by biological systematics, with a focus on species classification. They consider views of species as natural groupings (6:37), as lineages (17:26), and as natural kinds or homeostatic property clusters (33:38). Haber defends a view of species as individuals (44:28), and Velasco raises doubts about that view (55:33). Velasco presents a view of species as a rank (66:25). They conclude by discussing naming and reference in biological systematics (74:38).
Roy Sorensen (left) and Michael Weisberg (right) on idealization and scientific realism.
Idealization is the intentional introduction of distortion into scientific theories. If science aims at the truth, as scientific realists believe, then why are scientific theories routinely idealized? To answer that question, Weisberg take a pluralistic approach. He distinguishes three kinds of idealization (Galilean, minimalist, and multiple-models), and recommends that realists pursue different accounts of each kind. In contrast, Sorensen proposes that realists can develop a unified account of idealization if they can show that idealized scientific theories are merely supposed rather than asserted.
John Dupré (left) and Alex Rosenberg (right) on physicalist anti-reductionism.
According to physicalism, there is no non-physical stuff. According to reductionism, all facts can be captured by some purely physical description of the world. Nowadays, physicalist anti-reductionism is orthodox among philosophers. In this debate, Dupré defends that orthodoxy, while Rosenberg defends a considerably less popular view: physicalist reductionism.
Craig Callender (left) and Sean Carroll (right) on the arrow of time and the multiverse.
According to the Past Hypothesis, the early universe was a low-entropy state, and entropy has been increasing ever since. Carroll thinks that the truth of the Past Hypothesis cries out for explanation; Callender thinks that its truth should be regarded as a brute law-like fact. They discuss this disagreement. Then (starting at 35:41) they discuss the explanatory merits of Carroll’s proposal that we inhabit a “baby universe” that is an offspring of another, higher-entropy universe.