Kitcher's Problem with Asymmetry
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The twentieth century was dominated by two rival views of scientific explanation. The first is the causal view in which causation is primitive. According to this view, the best explanations are the ones that tell us the cause of a phenomenon, organism, or state of affairs. The second is the unification view, which seeks to unify seemingly disparate bodies of knowledge. Philip Kitcher shook up the debate by synthesizing the two views. He developed a unification theory in which causation is derivative of explanation. The intuitive idea is that the best explanations are the ones that can draw the most conclusions from the fewest basic premises, and these premises just are the causal explanations. There is a problem though. Like any theory of scientific explanation, Kitcher must show that his respects explanatory asymmetry. For instance, we want our scientific theories to say that the height of a flagpole is explanatory of the length of the flagpole's shadow, and not vice versa. Kitcher's view has come under serious attack from Eric Barnes, who claims that Kitcher's theory cannot respect the problem of asymmetry. He gives three examples in which he thinks Kitcher's view fails. Todd Jones tried to defend Kitcher in a paper, but there is still much left to be said. One of his arguments, involving a Newtonian particle system, fails. The status of two of his other arguments is unclear. My goal is to step into the debate between Jones and Barnes and tip the scales in favor of the position that Jones defended. Additionally, I consider new potential cases of asymmetry and show how Kitcher's theory is equipped to accommodate these cases too.
Shields, Jannai (2012). Kitcher's Problem with Asymmetry. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from