HPSM Colloquium: Lauren Ross (University of California, Irvine) – “The distinctiveness of disease explanation”

February 28, 2020
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Somers Family Hall 216 (Danforth Campus)

“The distinctiveness of disease explanation”

Abstract: The philosophical literature on explanation is full of colorful examples from science and ordinary life contexts. These examples include explanatory targets such as: blocks sliding down an incline, eye color of fruit ies, length of a agpole’s shadow, movement of ocean tides, and extinction of the dinosaurs. In much of this literature, disease traits are discussed as a common explanatory target. This is seen in Hempel’s discussion of childbed fever and measles (Hempel 1965), Salmon’s example of paresis as a symptom of syphilis (Salmon 1984), Kitcher’s re ections on Huntington’s disease (Kitcher 2003), and Woodward’s discussion of psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia (Woodward 2010).

Including these biomedical examples in a theoretical analysis of scienti c explanation is a wel-
come move in philosophy. However, while attention to disease examples has the advantage of properly including these cases in analyses of scienti c explanation, it has the curious disadvantage of suggesting that disease traits are no di erent from all other explanatory targets. A main aim of this talk will involve questioning this assumption. In particular, I will explore ways in which disease explanation di ers from standard accounts of explanation in philosophy of science. This talk will consider: (i) ways in which disease traits are conceptualized as explanatory targets, (ii) the process in which these targets are explained, and how (i) and (ii) di er from standard scienti c explanations in the philosophical literature.

This seminar is hosted by History and Philosophy of Science & Medicine (HPSM).

For inquiries contact Susan McKinney.