Explaining Explanation

Explaining Explanation

Explaining Explanation

Explaining Explanation

Synopsis

This book introduces readers to the topic of explanation. The insights of Plato, Aristotle, J.S. Mill and Carl Hempel are examined, and are used to argue against the view that explanation is merely a problem for the philosophy of science. Having established its importance for understanding knowledge in general, the book concludes with a bold and original explanation of explanation.

Excerpt

The series in which this book is appearing is called 'The Problems of Philosophy: Their Past and Present'; this volume, since it is about the concept of explanation, discusses some of the philosophical problems about explanation, as they arise in the writings of past philosophers.

It is necessary to introduce certain distinctions, and settle a few substantive matters, before beginning the discussion of explanation in the succeeding chapters. One possible consequence of this approach is that readers will not always see the motive for the distinction or decision; I can only ask them to be patient, for the discussion in the following chapters returns to these issues time and time again; I engage in a separate, introductory treatment of these common and recurring themes, rather than weave them into the body of the ensuing text. But perhaps a 'map' of what this chapter contains will help.

First, it is essential to identify more precisely the concept I shall be discussing. Which concept does the term 'explanation' designate? the literature is somewhat remiss in this respect. Usually, the author presupposes that the audience will have no difficulty in identifying which concept it is, about which the author wishes to raise certain problems. This may be an acceptable presupposition in discussions of concepts like causation and knowledge. It does not seem to me to be an acceptable presupposition in the case of explanation (or, for that matter, in the case of the concept of a person). Hence, it is not a presupposition that I shall make. One of my main motives, in the sections entitled 'Some explanations', 'Process and product', 'Restricting the scope of the analysis', 'Scientific and ordinary explanation', 'Partial and full explanation', and 'Bad explanations and no explanations', is to specify as precisely as I can which concept it is that I shall be discussing, by distinguishing it from others with which it might easily be confused.

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