Cartwright, Nancy, and . The Truth Doesn’t Explain Much

1980, American Philosophical Quarterly 17(2): 159 - 163.

Summary: It has sometimes been argued that the covering law model in philosophy of science is too permissive about what gets to count as an explanation. This paper, by contrast, argues that it lets in too little, since there are far too few covering laws to account for all of our explanations. In fact, we rely on ceteris paribus laws that are literally false. Though these are not a true description of nature, they do a good job of allowing us to explain phenomena, so we should be careful to keep those two functions of science separate.

Comment: This relatively brief article offers a good illustration of how, contrary to some preconceptions, science does not always aim at absolute or universal truths, and instead allows pragmatic considerations to play a large role. Useful as part of an examination of what scientific laws really are and what their role is.