Finding causal structure

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Ross, Lauren N.
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preprint description
The periodic table of elements represents and organizes all known chemical elements on the basis of their properties. While the importance of this table in chemistry is uncontroversial the role that it plays in scientific reasoning remains heavily disputed. Many philosophers deny the explanatory role of the periodic table, while insisting that it is "merely" classificatory (Shapere 1977, 534-5; Scerri 1997a, 239). In particular, it has been claimed that the table doesn’t figure in causal explanation because it "does not reveal causal structure" (Woody 2014, 143). This paper argues that the modern periodic table does reveal causal structure in the sense of containing causal information that figures in explanations in chemistry. However, this analysis suggests that the earliest versions of the table did serve more of a classificatory role, as they lack the causal structure present in modern versions.