Degree of explanation

Northcott, Robert
October 2013
Synthese;Oct2013, Vol. 190 Issue 15, p3087
Academic Journal
Partial explanations are everywhere. That is, explanations citing causes that explain some but not all of an effect are ubiquitous across science, and these in turn rely on the notion of degree of explanation. I argue that current accounts are seriously deficient. In particular, they do not incorporate adequately the way in which a cause’s explanatory importance varies with choice of explanandum. Using influential recent contrastive theories, I develop quantitative definitions that remedy this lacuna, and relate it to existing measures of degree of causation. Among other things, this reveals the precise role here of chance, as well as bearing on the relation between causal explanation and causation itself.


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