The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Mon Feb 3, 2020
Howison Library, Moses Hall, 4–6 PM
Philosophy Colloquium
Zina Ward
Explaining Individual Differences

Most psychological research aims to uncover generalizations about the mind that hold across subjects. Philosophical discussions of scientific explanation have focused on such generalizations, but in doing so, have overlooked an important phenomenon: variation. Individual differences are ubiquitous in psychology and an important target of explanation in their own right. Here I characterize explananda that concern variation and formulate an account of what it takes to explain them. I argue that the notion of actual difference making, the only causal concept in the literature that explicitly addresses variation, cannot be used to ground such an account. Instead, I propose a view on which explaining variation involves identifying causes that could be intervened on to reduce the variability in the population. This account provides criteria of success for explaining individual differences and deepens our understanding of causal explanation.