Special-Science Autonomy and the Division of Labor

Forthcoming: The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher, edited by M. Couch and J. Pfeifer, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Abstract: Philip Kitcher has advocated and advanced an influential antireductionist picture of science on which the higher-level sciences pursue their aims largely independently of the lower-level sciences -- a view of the sciences as autonomous. Explanatory autonomy as Kitcher understands it is incompatible with explanatory reductionism, the view that a high-level explanation is inevitably improved by providing a lower-level explanation of its parts. This paper explores an alternative conception of autonomy based on another major theme of Kitcher's philosophy of science: the importance of the division of cognitive labor. That the sciences are in practice autonomous is compatible with reductionism, I argue, if we understand the high-level sciences' systematic explanatory disregard of lower-level details of implementation as practically, rather than intellectually, motivated.

This paper supersedes an older paper called Explanatory Autonomy and Explanatory Irreducibility.

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