Explanation and metaphysics

Synthese 143 (1-2):89-107 (2005)
Is the nature of explanation a metaphysical issue? Or has it more to do with psychology and pragmatics? To put things in a different way: what are primary relata in an explanation? What sorts of thing explain what other sorts of thing? David Lewis identifies two senses of ‘explanation’ (Lewis 1986, 217–218). In the first sense, an explanation is an act of explaining. I shall call this the subjectivist sense, since its existence depends on some subject doing the explaining. Hence it is people who, in this sense, explain things. In the second of his two senses, Lewis says, quoting Sylvain Bromberger, that one may properly ask of an explanation “Does anyone know it? Who thought of it first? Is it very complicated?” (Lewis 1986, 218; Bromberger 1965). In this second sense, no subject is needed, the explanation can remain unknown, perhaps for ever. So I call this the objectivist sense.
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