Scientific Explanations, Competing and Conjunctive

University of Utah; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; June 26-28, 2019

Keynote Speakers
  • Stephan Hartmann, Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy
  • Leah Henderson, University of Groningen
  • Lauren Ross, University of California, Irvine
  • Tomoji Shogenji, Rhode Island College
  • Andrew Shtulman, Occidental College

* Unless otherwise noted, all events will be held in the Tanner Philosophy Library (459 CTIHB)

Wednesday, June 26

2pm-2:30 Arrival/Welcome*

Conference Overview Talk: David Glass (Ulster University), “Scientific Explanations, Competing and Conjunctive”
4:00-4:30 Discussion/Coffee
4:30-5:30 Steve Petersen (Niagara University), “Explanation as Pattern”


Thursday, June 27


Keynote: Lauren Ross (UC Irvine), “Distinguishing Topological and Causal
10:30-11:00 Coffee 

Morgan Petersen (Edinburgh), “How Teleological Language Contributes to Understanding in Biological Explanation”
12pm-1:00  Lunch

Keynote: Tomoji Shogenji (Rhode Island College), “The Role of Explanation in Epistemic Evaluation: Comparative vs. Non-Comparative”

James Skinner (St Andrews), “Inference to the Best Bayesian: On the Prospects of Inference to the Best Explanation as an Updating Rule”
3:30-4:00  Coffee

Keynote: Andrew Shtulman (Occidental College), “Ghosts of Theories Past: How Intuitive Theories Compete with the Scientific Theories that ‘Replace’ Them”
6:30-9:30 Squatters Brewpub; 147 Broadway, SLC)


Friday, June 28


Keynote: Stephan Hartmann (LMU Munich), “Confirmation by Best Explanation: A Bayesian Justification of IBE”
10:30-11:00 Coffee 

Mariam Thalos (U of Tennessee), “An Apt Disciplinary Location for Fundamental Questions about Measurement and Explanation”
12pm-1:00  Lunch

Erlantz Etxeberria (Western University, Rotman Institute), “When Causal and Non-Causal Explanations Compete against Each Other”

Alexandra Bradner (Kenyon College), “Background Constraints on Plural Explanation”
3:00-3:30  Coffee
Keynote: Leah Henderson (U of Groningen), “IBE, Bayesianism and ‘Non-Competing Explanations’”
5:00-5:30 Closing/Farewell



In research on the nature of scientific explanation, philosophers argue that the same explanandum may have associated with it a multiplicity of explanantia. This claim is most plausible perhaps when it comes to cases of so-called explanatory pluralism, cases in which numerous explanations each do qualitatively different explanatory work. An object’s existence can be explained either by referring to its causes or its function. One hypothesis may explain an event by telling us a causal-mechanical story leading up to the event, while another may perhaps explain the same event by referring to a nomic regularity that the event instantiates. Cases of such “explanatory multiplicity” are often used to defend a general pluralism regarding the nature of scientific explanation.

Such views on the nature of explanation seem to be in tension with a common feature of models of explanatory reasoning in philosophy of science, computer science and cognitive science: the assumption that when we reason explanatorily, we reason between competing explanations. Explanatory forms of scientific reasoning such as Inference to the Best Explanation (or abductive inference) and Explaining-Away are often cast as applying only to competing hypotheses. But if explanatory multiplicity is truly a common phenomenon in the sciences, then why should our models of scientific, explanatory reasoning only compare potential explanations that compete? Indeed, in cases of explanatory multiplicity, it would seem desirable for such models not only to allow us to compare non-competing explanations, but also to guide us in inferring them conjointly as “conjunctive explanations”.

This conference will be a three-day exploration of these and related issues. Submissions are especially welcome on the nature and/or epistemology of scientific explanation, including work involving computer simulations. Questions of specific interest that such papers might address include the following:

  • What is a scientific explanation, and is there one true account? What reasons may be given for or against explanatory multiplicity and/or explanatory pluralism in the sciences?
  • What distinguishes explanations? When is it appropriate to say that two explanations are actually one and the same (or part of the same) versus distinct?
  • How should explanatory multiplicity be accounted for in models of scientific explanation? Do Inference to the Best Explanation, Explaining-Away, and other formal models of scientific reasoning essentially compare competing hypotheses, or can they be stated in terms of conjunctive explanations?
  • Under what epistemic conditions do distinct explanations constitute conjunctive (rather than competing) explanations? What does it mean for explanatory hypotheses to compete?
  • How can computer simulations of scientific reasoning shed light on the role of explanation?
  • How can conjunctive and competing explanations be modelled in simulations of this kind?
  • What historical cases can be given of conjunctive explanations at work in scientific thought?
  • What logical, formal epistemological, philosophical, etc. reasons can be put forward for validating and clarifying the role of conjunctive explanations in scientific practice?

This workshop will be of special interest to philosophers of science (general and specialized), formal epistemologists, computer scientists, cognitive scientists, and historians of scientific thought. But it is open to anyone. Those planning to attend can register by simply dropping an email, including your name and affiliation, to Prof. Jonah N. Schupbach (jonah.n.schupbach[at]


In addition to papers from a number of keynote speakers, contributed papers are invited on the topics identified above (or related topics relevant to the workshop theme). A blinded, extended abstract of no more than 1,500 words should be submitted via EasyChair by 31 March, 2019. Decisions will be announced by 30 April, 2019.

Financial support will be available to assist speakers with a portion of their travel/lodging expenses.

Some of the papers presented at this workshop will be published in an edited volume or journal special issue.

Link to submission area via EasyChair can be found here.


The conference will be hosted by the University of Utah's Department of Philosophy. All talks will take place in the Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Building.

Structure of Conference

The conference will run for three days, June 26-28. 1.5 hours (45 min paper + 45 min discussion) will be allocated for invited, keynote presentations and 1 hour (30 min paper + 30 min discussion) for contributed papers. Coffee and lunch breaks, as well as a workshop dinner, will provide many opportunities for informal discussions.


Inquiries about the conference should be directed to the local organizer, Prof Jonah N. Schupbach (jonah.n.schupbach[at]

Sponsorship and Funding

Funding and support for the conference are provided by the following sources: