‘A Principled Reason to Prefer Causal Explanation in the Sciences’ (PhD in Philosophy, 2018).
Not all scientific explanations are causal; some are non-causal. Can we find any reason to prefer one over the other? If the explanations are competing to explain the same phenomenon and adjudicating between them cannot be done on empirical grounds, I will argue there is still a principled reason to prefer the causal variant. That principled reason has its roots in Karl Popper’s corroboration account of science. But what of how causal and non-causal explanations are distinguished? This question is of critical importance. For reasons that will become clear, this thesis will adopt the framework of James Woodward’s manipulationist account of causation. It will then be shown that certain characteristics of non-causal explanation run afoul of Popper’s corroboration based philosophy of science. Namely, non-causal explanations cannot be corroborated. For a hypothesis to be corroborated, it must be bold, it must take risks. A non-causal hypothesis, insofar as it is used in explanation, renders the phenomenon to be explained, inevitable. This can be demonstrated using actual scientific examples that range across domains, from the mating behavior of the yellow dung fly, to the bending of light around our sun. If we believe that corroboration is a virtue, then it will be shown that there is a principled reason to prefer causal explanations to non-causal explanations in the cases where they compete to explain the same phenomenon.
Supervisor: Professor Howard Sankey