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Direct and Indirect Relevance in Scientific Explanation




24: Linguistics and Philosophy

Faculty Supervisor:

Brad Skow

Faculty email:


Apply by:

February 1, 2021


Brad Skow: bskow@mit.edu

Project Description

This is a project about scientific explanation. First a definition: something cited in a scientific explanation is an "explanatory factor." For example, the dinosaurs went extinct because a comit hit the earth; so the comit's hitting the earth is an explanatory factor. The hypothesis to be investigated in this project is that some explanatory factors are "direct," and others, "indirect." An example illustrating this distinction might be this: the striking of a match, which is certainly part of why the match lit, is a "direct" factor, while the presence of oxygen in the room seems like an "indirect" factor: it is relevant to why the match lit in virtue of its making it possible for the striking to cause the match to light. To investigate this hypothesis we will look to see if this distinction ever appears "in the wild," that is, in scientific explanations in textbooks or academic research. This UROP is remote; meetings etc will all take place on zoom.


At least one philosophy class.