Mathematics And Explanatory Generality

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Philosophia Mathematica


According to one popular nominalist picture, even when mathematics features indispensably in scientific explanations, this mathematics plays only a purely representational role: physical facts are represented, and these exclusively carry the explanatory load. I think that this view is mistaken, and that there are cases where mathematics itself plays an explanatory role. I distinguish two kinds of explanatory generality: scope generality and topic generality. Using the well-known periodical-cicada example, and also a new case study involving bicycle gears, I argue that what is picked out by the mathematics are structural facts that go beyond any specific physical facts.

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