Dissecting explanatory power

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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DOI 10.2307/40606330
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References found in this work BETA
Jonathan Schaffer (2005). Contrastive Causation. Philosophical Review 114 (3):327-358.

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Citations of this work BETA
Caterina Marchionni (2013). Playing with Networks: How Economists Explain. [REVIEW] European Journal for Philosophy of Science 3 (3):331-352.

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