Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy, Session 10

Sam Baron

University of Western Australia

Unification and Mathematical Explanation

4 December 2019, 16:00

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa

Room B? (close to the Faculty’s Library)

Abstract: Mathematics clearly plays an important role in scientific explanation. Debate continues, however, over the kind of role that mathematics plays. Mathematics may be playing a ‘thick’ explanatory role, in this sense: there are some physical phenomena that occur for mathematical reasons. Alternatively, it may be that mathematics is playing a ‘thin’ explanatory role by merely representing the physical reasons why certain phenomena occur. It has been argued that the explanatory indispensability of mathematics under-determines the kind of role that mathematics plays, and so doesn’t provide a reason to believe that mathematics is playing a thick role. I argue that if mathematical and physical explanations are indispensably unified within science, then we have good reason to believe that mathematics is playing a thick role. The argument provides guidance on the types of explanation we should be looking for to establish that mathematics is genuinely explanatory.