Causal explanation and explanatory selection

Synthese 120 (1):115-124 (1999)
Abstract
It is observed that in ordinary everyday causal explanations often just one causal factor is mentioned. One causal factor carries the explanatory burden, even if there are several causal factors that are responsible for the event to be explained. This paper deals with the question of how to account for this explanatory selection. I argue for a pragmatic stance towards explanation, that we must attend to the question–answer situation as a whole and the context of the explanation. The context of an explanation includes the inquirer's and the explainer's beliefs and presuppositions relevant for the explanation-seeking question, and these are encoded in a reference class. Furthermore I argue that the explanation-giving answer contains an implicit counterfactual claim, the explanation-giving counterfactual. The solution to the problem of explanatory selection is to be found in the presuppositions encoded by the reference class and the eg-counterfactual. In short we select as explanatory that factor which, together with the presupposition encoded in the reference class we believe will make the eg-counterfactual true.
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