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Explanatory abstractions

Jansson, Lina; Saatsi, Juha

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Juha Saatsi


A number of philosophers have recently suggested that some abstract, plausibly non-causal and/or mathematical, explanations explain in a way that is radically different from the way causal explanation explain. Namely, while causal explanations explain by providing information about causal dependence, allegedly some abstract explanations explain in a way tied to the independence of the explanandum from the microdetails, or causal laws, for example. We oppose this recent trend to regard abstractions as explanatory in some sui generis way, and argue that a prominent account of causal explanation can be naturally extended to capture explanations that radically abstract away from microphysical and causal nomogical details. To this end, we distinguish different senses in which an explanation can be more or less abstract, and analyse the connection between explanations’ abstractness and their explanatory power. According to our analysis abstract explanations have much in common with counterfactual causal explanations.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 18, 2016
Online Publication Date Nov 30, 2017
Publication Date 2019-09
Deposit Date Aug 22, 2016
Publicly Available Date Dec 1, 2019
Journal British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Print ISSN 0007-0882
Electronic ISSN 1464-3537
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 70
Issue 3
Pages 817–844
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science following peer review. The version of record is available online at:


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