HPS Colloquium - Alisa Bokulich


Location: Eck Center Auditorium

Toward an Eikonic Conception of Explanation: 

Why We Should Leave the Ontic Conception Behind 

The ontic conception of explanation, according to which explanations are "full-bodied things in the world," is fundamentally misguided.  I argue instead for what I call the eikonic conception of scientific explanation, according to which explanations are an epistemic activity involving representations of the phenomena to be explained.  What is explained, in the first instance, is not the phenomenon in the world itself, but a particular representation of that phenomenon, which is contextualized within a particular research program and explanatory project.  I conclude that this eikonic conception of explanation has the following five virtues: first, it is able to better make sense of scientific practice; second, it allows us to talk normatively about explanations; third, it makes sense of explanatory pluralism; fourth, it helps us better understand the role of mathematics, models, and fictions in scientific explanation; and fifth, it makes room for the full range of constraints on explanation (e.g., ontic, epistemic, and communicative).


Alisa Bokulich received her Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame’s Program in History and Philosophy of Science. She is the director of B.U.’s Center for Philosophy & History of Science at BU since 2010, where she also organizes the Boston Colloquium for Philosophy of Science.