On Computational Explanations

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Computational explanations focus on information processing required in specific cognitive capacities, such as perception, reasoning or decision-making. These explanations specify the nature of the information processing task, what information needs to be represented, and why it should be operated on in a particular manner. In this article, the focus is on three questions concerning the nature of computational explanations: (1) What type of explanations they are, (2) in what sense computational explanations are explanatory and (3) to what extent they involve a special, “independent” or “autonomous” level of explanation. In this paper, we defend the view computational explanations are genuine explanations, which track non-causal/formal dependencies. Specifically, we argue that they do not provide mere sketches for explanation, in contrast to what for example Piccinini and Craver (Synthese 183(3):283–311, 2011) suggest. This view of computational explanations implies some degree of “autonomy” for the computational level. However, as we will demonstrate that does not make this view “computationally chauvinistic” in a way that Piccinini (Synthese 153:343–353, 2006b) or Kaplan (Synthese 183(3):339–373, 2011) have charged it to be.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)3931–3949
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 515 Psychology
  • 611 Philosophy
  • 6162 Cognitive science

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