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Temporally-Asymmetric Principles, Parity between Explanation and Prediction, and Mechanism versus Teleology

Adolf Grünbaum
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 29, No. 2 (Apr., 1962), pp. 146-170
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/186542
Page Count: 25
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Temporally-Asymmetric Principles, Parity between Explanation and Prediction, and Mechanism versus Teleology
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Abstract

Three major ways in which temporal asymmetries enter into scientific induction are discussed as follows: 1. An account is given of the physical basis for the temporal asymmetry of recordability, which obtains in the following sense: except for humanly recorded predictions and one other class of advance indicators to be discussed, interacting systems can contain reliable indicators of only their past and not of their future interactions. To deal with the exceptional cases of non-spontaneous "pre-records," a clarification is offered of the essential differences in the conditions requisite to the production of an indicator having retrodictive significance ("post-record"), on the one hand, and of one having predictive significance ("prerecord" or recorded prediction), on the other. Purported counter-examples to the asymmetry of spontaneous recordability are refuted. 2. It is shown how in cases of asymmetric recordability, the associated retrodiction-prediction asymmetry makes for an asymmetry of assertibility as between an explanandum (or an explanans) referring to a future event and one referring to a past one. But it is argued that this epistemological asymmetry in the assertibility per se must be clearly distinguished from a logical asymmetry between the past and the future in regard to the inferability (deductive or inductive) of the explanandum from the explanans. And it is then contended that the failure to distinguish between an epistemological and a logical asymmetry vitiates the critiques that recent writers have offered of the Popper-Hempel thesis, which affirms symmetry of inferability as between predictive and post-explanatory arguments. In reply to Scriven, it is maintained that predictions based on mere indicators (rather than causes) do not establish an asymmetry in scientific understanding as between predictive arguments and post-explanatory ones. 3. As a further philosophical ramification of the retrodiction-prediction asymmetry, a set of sufficient conditions are stated for the correctness of philosophical mechanism as opposed to teleology.

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