Department of Philosophy

Scientific Explanation

Project summary

My research has centred on the question of what it takes to provide a scientific explanation.

Part of this research has been directed at understanding the role that non-empirical criteria of theory selection - such as explanatory power and simplicity - play in the sciences, as well as the connections between different non-empirical criteria of theory choice.

A stamp from Deutsche Bunespost with Sir Issac Newton with some line drawn shapes, letters and a graph behind his head. The stamp includes his name and dates 1643-1727.

At first glance, it is very surprising to find that considerations of explanatory power or simplicity, that seem so closely bound to features of us as human cognitive agents, should be good guides to the way that the world is. Nonetheless, there are several arguments for the epistemic value of simplicity where its importance is far greater than mere pragmatic convenience for ease of calculation.

My research on Newton’s method in the Principia leads me to think that this provides a particularly good example of how to combine explanatory power with simplicity. However, in order to develop a general framework this case has to be extended to contemporary science. To do so, I would like to complete the MSc in Gravity, Forces, and Fields at the University of Nottingham. Ivette Fuentes has agreed to be my mentor. This course of study would allow me to understand cutting edge research on the difficulties of combining our current best two theories: quantum theory and general relativity. This is a field where there are fundamental philosophical questions at stake over how to evaluate competing theories.

I would like to complete this course of study at Nottingham alongside self-directed study in order to build a durable network for future collaboration. I expect this to result in articles in physics and in philosophy in the short term after the completion of the cross-disciplinary training. In the longer term, I expect to publish a monograph on non-empirical criteria of theory choice. I also hope to foster longstanding and ongoing collaborations with the physics and mathematical physics community.

Who's involved:

Lina Jansson


 Lina Jansson talks Scientific Explanation 

Department of Philosophy

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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