Past and Contemporary Perspectives on Explanation(
Graduate studies at Western
|Abstract||The present essay aims to show how our thinking about explanation has evolved and where it stands now. Its first part presents how some major thinkers, from Aristotle, through to Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Hume and Kant, to Mill, conceived of explanation. The second part offers a systematic examination of the most significant and controversial contemporary models of explanation. The first part starts with Aristotle’s conception—the thought that explanation consists in finding out why something happened and that answering why-questions requires finding causes—which set the agenda for almost all subsequent thinking about explanation. It discusses the links between laws of nature, causation and explanation in the thought of the early modern philosophers and culminates with John Stuart Mill’s first well-worked out model of scientific explanation, which was based on the idea that there is no necessity in nature and that, ultimately, explanation amounts to unification into a comprehensive deductive system, whose axioms capture the fundamental laws of nature. The second part starts with the Logical Empiricists’ attempt to legitimise the concept of causation by subsuming it under the concept of a deductive-nomological argument. It moves on to discuss the reappearance of genuinely causal models of explanation as well as the re-appearance and development of the Millian idea that explanation amounts to unification. It ends with the examination of teleological approaches to explanation|
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