Generic Generalizations in Science
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This article maintains that an important class of scientific generalizations should be reinterpreted: they have typically been understood as ceteris paribus laws, but are, in fact, generics. Four arguments are presented to support this thesis. One argument is that the interpretation in terms of ceteris paribus laws is a historical accident. The other three arguments draw on similarities between these generalizations and archetypal generics: they come with similar inferential commitments, they share a syntactic form, and the existing theories to make sense of them are alike. Once these generalizations are properly understood as generics, the recent cognitive approach to generics can be extended to the study of the relevant sciences. The last section indicates ways in which this extension is fruitful for the two strands of research that we combine: the philosophy of science literature on generalizations and the semantics literature on generics.
This research has been financially supported by the Canada Research Chair in Applied Epistemology (Grant Number 950-230644).
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