In press. “Temporalization in Causal Modeling”. To appear in Kleinberg, Samantha (Ed.) Time and Causality Across the Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Co-authored with Jonathan Livengood]
Causal influence, as it is modeled and discussed in the social sciences, is widely agreed to require time to propagate. Causes are generally assumed to precede their effects, and many social scientists, statisticians, and philosophers have claimed that time-ordering can be used for selecting appropriate causal models. However, ordinary practice is typically neither explicit nor careful about the relationship between causation and time. In the social sciences, “time-free” causal models—i.e., ones which lack explicit information about the relative timing of causes and effects—are quite commonplace. Often these time-free causal models turn out to veil implausible temporal claims when examined closely. Our goal in this paper is to criticize this common practice of using time-free causal models. We show, with examples, that time-free causal models are able to get away with violating the temporal ordering maxim simply because they do not exhibit their temporal claims on their face.
2018. "Methodology in Aristotle's Theory of Spontaneous Generation." Journal of the History of Biology 51(2): 355-386.
Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation offers many puzzles to those who wish to understand his theory both within the context of his biology and within the context of his more general philosophy of nature. In this paper, I approach the difficult and vague elements of Aristotle’s account of spontaneous generation not as weaknesses, but as opportunities for an interesting glimpse into the thought of an early scientist struggling to reconcile evidence and theory. The paper has two goals: (1) to give as charitable and full an account as possible of what Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation was, and to examine some of its consequences; and (2) to reflect on Aristotle as a scientist, and what his comments reveal about how he approached a difficult problem. In particular, I propose that the well-recognized problem of the incompatibility between Aristotle’s concept of spontaneity and his theory of spontaneous generation presents an opportunity for insight into his scientific methodology when approaching ill-understood phenomena.
2018. "Introduction to the CEPOS Discussion." American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 92(1): 107-121. [Co-authored with Peter Distelzweig]
In this paper we aim to describe and encourage a scholarly effort that we call “Catholic Engagement in Philosophy of Science” (CEPOS). The goal of this effort is to articulate, explore, and evaluate a variety of approaches to philosophy of science present in Catholic thought over the last 150 years—approaches including explicit philosophies of science, as well as ones implicit in and shaping theological work, hierarchical Church documents and actions, and evaluations of the relevance of the special sciences to metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and theology. As we see it, this effort has the potential to span a broad range of issues, approaches, and figures, and to cultivate on-going, productive cross-fertilization, collaboration, and exploration among philosophers, theologians, and scientists.
2017. "Interventionist Causation in Thermodynamics." Philosophy of Science 84(5): 1303-1315.
The interventionist account of causation has been largely dismissed as a serious candidate for application in physics. This dismissal is related to the problematic assumption that physical causation is entirely a matter of dynamical evolution. In this article, I offer a fresh look at the interventionist account of causation and its applicability to thermodynamics. I argue that the interventionist account of causation is the account of causation that most appropriately characterizes the theoretical structure and phenomenal behavior of thermodynamics.
2013. "An Epistemology of Causal Inference from Experiment." Philosophy of Science 80(5): 660-671.
The manipulationist account of causation provides a framework for assessing causal claims and the experiments used to test them. But its pertinence to the more general class of scientific experiments—particularly those experiments not explicitly designed for testing causal claims—is less clear. I aim to show (1) that the set of causal inferences afforded by any experiment is determined solely on the basis of contrasting case structures that I call “experimental series” and (2) that the conditions that suffice for causal inference obtain quite commonly, even among “ordinary” scientific experiments not explicitly designed for the testing of causal claims.
2012. "The Status of Laws of Nature in the Philosophy of Leibniz." Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 85: 149-160.
Is it possible to take the enterprise of physics seriously while also holding the belief that the world contains an order beyond the reach of that physics? Is it possible to simultaneously believe in objective laws of nature and in miracles? Is it possible to search for the truths of physics while also acknowledging the limitations of that search as it is carried out by limited human knowers? As a philosopher, as a Christian, and as a participant in the physics of his day, Leibniz had an interesting view that bears on all of these questions. This paper examines the status of laws of nature in Leibniz’s philosophy and how the status of these laws fits into his larger philosophical picture of the limits of human knowledge and the wise and omniscient God who created the actual world.
2011. "Dalton’s Chemical Atoms versus Duhem's Chemical Equivalents." Philosophy of Science78(5): 842-853.
Paul Needham has claimed in several recent papers that Dalton’s chemical atomism was not explanatory. I respond to his criticism of Dalton by arguing that explanation admits of degrees and that under a view that allows for a spectrum of explanatory value, it is possible to see ample worth in Dalton’s atomistic explanations. Furthermore, I argue that even Duhem, who rejected atomism, acknowledged the explanatory worth of Dalton’s atomism.
2011. "John Dalton's Puzzles: From Meteorology to Chemistry." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42(1): 58-66.
Historical research on John Dalton has been dominated by an attempt to reconstruct the origins of his so-called “chemical atomic theory”. I show that Dalton’s theory is difficult to define in any concise manner, and that there has been no consensus as to its unique content among his contemporaries, later chemists, and modern historians. I propose an approach which, instead of attempting to work backward from Dalton’s theory, works forward, by identifying the research questions that Dalton posed to himself and attempting to understand how his hypotheses served as answers to these questions. I describe Dalton’s scientific work as an evolving set of puzzles about natural phenomena. I show how an early interest in meteorology led Dalton to see the constitution of the atmosphere as a puzzle. In working on this great puzzle, he gradually turned his interest to specifically chemical questions. In the end, the web of puzzles that he worked on required him to create his own novel philosophy of chemistry for which he is known today.