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Contrastive, Non-Probabilistic Statistical Explanations

Bruce Glymour
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 65, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 448-471
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/188280
Page Count: 24
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Contrastive, Non-Probabilistic Statistical Explanations
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Abstract

Standard models of statistical explanation face two intractable difficulties. In his 1984 Salmon argues that because statistical explanations are essentially probabilistic we can make sense of statistical explanation only by rejecting the intuition that scientific explanations are contrastive. Further, frequently the point of a statistical explanation is to identify the etiology of its explanandum, but on standard models probabilistic explanations often fail to do so. This paper offers an alternative conception of statistical explanations on which explanations of the frequency of a property consist in the derivation of that frequency from a statistical specification of the mechanism by which instances of the relevant property are produced. Such explanations are contrastive precisely because they identify the determinate causal etiologies of their explananda.

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