The Mathematical Route to Causal Understanding

In Reutlinger and Saatsi (eds.), Explanation Beyond Causation, Oxford University Press, 2018.

Abstract: In some scientific explanations, mathematical facts seem to be the primary bearers of enlightenment. Is this a case, in science, of explanation beyond causation? Might these explanations be causal only in part, or only in an auxiliary way, or not at all? To answer this question, I will examine some well-known examples of explanations that seem to operate largely or wholly through mathematical proof. I conclude that the mathematical and the causal components of these explanations are complementary rather than rivalrous: the function of the mathematics is to help the explanations' consumers better grasp relevant aspects of the causal structure that does the explaining, and above all, to better grasp how the structure causally makes a difference to the phenomena to be explained. The explanations are revealed, then, to be causal through and through.

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