Mathematical Explanation in Computer Science


*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This note scouts a broad but underexplored class of explanations found in contemporary computer science. These explanations, which I call limitative explanations, explain why certain problems cannot be solved computationally. Limitative explanations are philosophically rich, but have not received the attention they deserve. The primary goals of this note are to isolate limitative explanations and provide a preliminary account of what makes them explanatory. On the account I favour, limitative explanations are a kind of non-causal mathematical explanation which depend on highly idealized models of computation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1079-1088
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophy of Science
Issue number5
Early online date16 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Thanks to Soyeong An, Zoe Ashton, Chris Pincock, Lisa Shabel, Richard Samuels, Stewart Shapiro, John Symons, and audiences at Western University and the Method, Theory, and Reality workshop for questions and discussion. Work on this paper was partially supported by a Senior Research Fellowship award from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong SAR, China (‘Philosophy of Contemporary and Future Science’, Project no. SRFS2122-3H01).


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