Angela Potochnik (University of Cincinnati)
Title: It’s All Relevant
Abstract: One of the questions philosophers pose about scientific explanations regards relevance: what sorts of relationships are relevant to explaining and should be featured in explanations. This question of relevance crops up variously in philosophical debates about levels of explanation, structural explanation, causation, and more, and it also can shape what scientists target in their research. In this talk, I’ll argue that there is no way to determine which relationships should be included in an explanation without reference to the cognitive needs of those seeking explanation. The world’s complexity gives rise to a wide variety of potentially explanatory relationships; determining which of these in fact explains depends on those setting the agenda. This view has two implications with significance for science and philosophy. First, we should anticipate—and accept—the coexistence of multiple explanations. Second, this paves the way for the recognition of the explanatory value of a wider range of structural, large-scale, and stable features of the world.