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Sui generis explanations: scientific progress and scientific realism

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I argue, against the literature, that often scientific progress does not feature or consist in any theoretical advance. Neither does it feature or consist in the discovery of new mechanisms or causal capacities. Rather, it is a matter of establishing causal explanations in a kind of case I label sui generis – where the explanation is specific to the particular explanandum and cannot usually be exported to other explananda. A characteristic feature of such explanations is that they go well beyond and cannot be derived from our current theories and mechanisms. Neither do they advance our stock of knowledge of those. Yet they constitute scientific progress nevertheless and moreover in sui generis cases are the only way such progress can be achieved. Furthermore, I argue that sui generis cases are common and that their ranks likely include some of the most important of all policy issues.

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