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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Narrative structure of scientific theorizing Rosales, Alirio


I argue that many scientific theories and explanations are irreducibly narrative in character. To this end I propose an account of a generalized narrative, which goes against the widespread view that narratives are by definition particularized. On my account, generalized narratives are sequences of causally connected event-types in the duration of a system, with a beginning, middle and end (whereas particularized narratives are causally connected sequences of event-tokens). Many important scientific theories have a narrative structure that is not reducible to the kinds of formal statements typically identified with theory formulations, i.e., equations and “if-then” conditionals. Similarly, some scientific explanations have a narrative structure that is not reducible to the structure of an “argument” with premises and a conclusion. Narratives, generalized or particularized, play a threefold role in theorizing: heuristic, structural, and explanatory: 1) Through narratives, scientists explore imaginative scenarios where possible causal connections and outcomes are explored before a mathematical or otherwise formal framework is in place; 2) Narratives constitute the core of some theories, and can embed formal elements in them; 3) The causal order of event-types or event-tokens forms the basis of explanations. Throughout, I motivate and illustrate my proposal with examples from evolutionary biology and physics.

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