Why Explanations Lie: Idealization in Explanation
A talk extracted from chapter 8 of the book on explanation
Abstract: On the causal approach to explanation, explaining a phenomenon is telling the actual causal story as to why it occurs. Science is full of idealizing explanations that deliberately falsify the relevant causal story. Therefore, either (a) the causal approach to explanation is mistaken, or (b) idealizing explanations, however convenient, are deeply flawed. Correct? I don't think so. I show that on an enlightened causal account of explanation, idealization is not merely tolerable; done right, it enhances the explanatory power of a causal model.
How could we possibly explain anything? We operate only with things that do not exist: lines, planes, bodies, atoms, divisible time spans, divisible spaces. How should explanations be at all possible when we first turn everything into an image, our image! (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, §112)