Some Concerns Regarding Explanatory Pluralism: The Explanatory Role of Optimality Models
Optimality models are widely used in different parts of biology. Two important questions that have been asked about such models are: are they explanatory and, if so, what type of explanations do they offer? My concern in this paper is with the approach of Rice (2012, 2015) and Irvine (2015), who claim that these models provide non-causal explanations. I argue that there are serious problems with this approach and with the accounts of explanation it is intended to justify. The idea behind this undertaking is to draw attention to an important issue associated with the recent pluralist stance on explanation: the rampant proliferation of theories of explanation. This proliferation supports a pluralist perspective on explanation, and pluralism encourages such a proliferation. But, if we are not careful about how we arrive at and how we justify new accounts of explanation — i.e., if we do not try to avoid the sort of problems discussed in this paper — we may end up trivializing the concept of explanation.
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