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
James Woodward (2003). Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford University Press.
Judea Pearl (2000). Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference. Cambridge University Press.
Peter Lipton (2004). Inference to the Best Explanation. Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
Wesley C. Salmon (1998). Causality and Explanation. Oxford University Press.
Jonathan Schaffer (2005). Contrastive Causation. Philosophical Review 114 (3):327-358.
Citations of this work BETA
Christopher Clarke (forthcoming). The Explanatory Virtue of Abstracting Away From Idiosyncratic and Messy Detail. Philosophical Studies:1-21.
Cameron Buckner (2013). Morgan's Canon, Meet Hume's Dictum: Avoiding Anthropofabulation in Cross-Species Comparisons. Biology and Philosophy 28 (5):853-871.
Cameron Buckner (2015). Functional Kinds: A Skeptical Look. Synthese 192 (12):3915-3942.
Luca Moretti (2014). Global Scepticism, Underdetermination and Metaphysical Possibility. Erkenntnis 79 (2):381-403.
Petri Ylikoski (2013). Causal and Constitutive Explanation Compared. Erkenntnis 78 (2):277-297.
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