David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophical Studies 148 (2):201–219 (2010)
Comparisons of rival explanations or theories often involve vague appeals to explanatory power. In this paper, we dissect this metaphor by distinguishing between different dimensions of the goodness of an explanation: non-sensitivity, cognitive salience, precision, factual accuracy and degree of integration. These dimensions are partially independent and often come into conflict. Our main contribution is to go beyond simple stipulation or description by explicating why these factors are taken to be explanatory virtues. We accomplish this by using the contrastive-counterfactual approach to explanation and the view of understanding as an inferential ability. By combining these perspectives, we show how the explanatory power of an explanation in a given dimension can be assessed by showing the range of answers it provides to what-if-things-had-been-different questions and the theoretical and pragmatic importance of these questions. Our account also explains intuitions linking explanation to unification or to exhibition of a mechanism.
|Keywords||Explanation Understanding Explanatory power Inference to the best explanation|
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References found in this work BETA
Christopher Hitchcock & James Woodward (2003). Explanatory Generalizations, Part II: Plumbing Explanatory Depth. Noûs 37 (2):181–199.
Paul Humphreys (1993). Greater Unification Equals Greater Understanding? Analysis 53 (3):183 - 188.
Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.) (1989). Scientific Explanation. Univ of Minnesota Pr.
Jaakko Kuorikoski (2007). Explaining with Equilibria68. In Johannes Persson & Petri Ylikoski (eds.), Rethinking Explanation. Springer. 149--162.
Peter Lipton (2004). Inference to the Best Explanation. Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
Citations of this work BETA
Luca Moretti (2014). Global Scepticism, Underdetermination and Metaphysical Possibility. Erkenntnis 79 (2):381-403.
Cameron Buckner (2013). Morgan's Canon, Meet Hume's Dictum: Avoiding Anthropofabulation in Cross-Species Comparisons. Biology and Philosophy 28 (5):853-871.
Robert Northcott (2013). Degree of Explanation. Synthese 190 (15):3087-3105.
Juha Saatsi & Mark Pexton (forthcoming). Reassessing Woodward's Account of Explanation: Regularities, Counterfactuals, and Noncausal Explanations. Philosophy of Science 80 (5):613-624.
Petri Ylikoski (2013). Causal and Constitutive Explanation Compared. Erkenntnis 78 (2):277-297.
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