We argue that there is no general theory of explanation that spans the sciences, mathematics, and ethics, etc. More specifically, there is no good reason to believe that substantive and domain-invariant constraints on explanatory information exist. Using Nickel (Noûs 44(2):305–328, 2010 ) as an exemplar of the contrary, generalist position, we first show that Nickel’s arguments rest on several ambiguities, and then show that even when these ambiguities are charitably corrected, Nickel’s defense of general theories of explanation is inadequate along (...) several different dimensions. Specifically, we argue that Nickel’s argument has three fatal flaws. First, he has not provided any compelling illustrations of domain-invariant constraints on explanation. Second, in order to fend off the most vehement skeptics of domain-invariant theories of explanation, Nickel must beg all of the important questions. Third, Nickel’s examples of explanations from different domains with common explanatory structure rely on incorrect formulations of the explanations under consideration, circular justifications, and/or a mischaracterization of the position Nickel intends to critique. Given that the best and most elaborate defense of the generalist position fails in so many ways, we conclude that the standard practice in philosophy (and in philosophy of science in particular), which is to develop theories of explanation that are tailored to specific domains, still is justified. For those who want to buy into a more ambitious project: beware of the costs! (shrink)
Jonathan Kvanvig has argued that “objectual” understanding, i.e. the understanding we have of a large body of information, cannot be reduced to explanatory concepts. In this paper, I show that Kvanvig fails to establish this point, and then propose a framework for reducing objectual understanding to explanatory understanding.
Recently, it has been debated as to whether understanding is a species of explanatory knowledge. Those who deny this claim frequently argue that understanding, unlike knowledge, can be lucky. In this paper I argue that current arguments do not support this alleged compatibility between understanding and epistemic luck. First, I argue that understanding requires reliable explanatory evaluation, yet the putative examples of lucky understanding underspecify the extent to which subjects possess this ability. In the course of defending this claim, I (...) also provide a new account of the kind of ‘grasping’ taken to be central to understanding. Second, I show that putative examples of lucky understanding unwittingly deploy a kind of luck that is compatible with knowledge. Finally, appealing to a number of works on explanation and its attendant epistemology, I argue that alleged instances of lucky understanding that overcome these two obstacles will invariably violate certain norms of explanatory inquiry – our paradigmatic understanding-oriented practice. By contrast, knowledge of the same information is immune to these criticisms. Consequently, if understanding is environmentally lucky, it is always inferior to the understanding that a corresponding case of knowledge would provide. (shrink)
Recently, several authors have argued that scientific understanding should be a new topic of philosophical research. In this article, I argue that the three most developed accounts of understanding--Grimm's, de Regt's, and de Regt and Dieks's--can be replaced by earlier accounts of scientific explanation without loss. Indeed, in some cases, such replacements have clear benefits.
Explanatory contrastivists hold that we often explain phenomena of the form p rather than q. In this paper, I present a new, social‐epistemological model of contrastive explanation—accountabilism. Specifically, my view is inspired by social‐scientific research that treats explanations fundamentally as accounts; that is, communicative actions that restore one's social status when charged with questionable behaviour. After developing this model, I show how accountabilism provides a more comprehensive model of contrastive explanation than the causal models of contrastive explanation that are currently (...) en vogue. (shrink)
Epistemologists have recently debated whether understanding is a species of knowledge. However, because they have offered little in the way of a detailed analysis of understanding, they lack the resources to resolve this issue. In this paper, I propose that S understands why p if and only if S has the non-Gettierised true belief that p, and for some proposition q, S has the non-Gettierised true belief that q is the best available explanation of p, S can correctly explain p (...) with q, and S can identify the features that make q the best explanation of p. On this analysis, understanding is reducible to knowing that p and that q is the best available explanation of p. (shrink)
The underconsideration argument against inference to the best explanation and scientific realism holds that scientists are not warranted in inferring that the best theory is true, because scientists only ever conceive of a small handful of theories at one time, and as a result, they may not have considered a true theory. However, antirealists have not developed a detailed alternative account of why explanatory inference nevertheless appears so central to scientific practice. In this paper, I provide new defences against some (...) recent objections to the underconsideration argument, while also developing an account of explanatory inference that both survives these criticisms and does not entail realism. (shrink)
In this essay, I provide normative guidelines for developing a philosophically interesting and plausible version of social constructivism as a philosophy of science, wherein science aims for social-epistemic values rather than for truth or empirical adequacy. This view is more plausible than the more radical constructivist claim that scientific facts are constructed. It is also more interesting than the modest constructivist claim that representations of such facts emerge in social contexts, as it provides a genuine rival to the scientific axiologies (...) of scientific realists and constructive empiricists. I further contrast my view with positions holding that the aims of science are context dependent, that the unit of normative analysis is the scientific community, and that the aims of science are non-epistemic social values. (shrink)
Critics of the erotetic model of explanation question its ability to discriminate significant from spurious explanations. One response to these criticisms has been to impose contextual restrictions on a case-by-case basis. In this article, the author argues that these approaches have overestimated the role of interests at the expense of other contextual aspects characteristic of social-scientific explanation. For this reason, he shows how procedures of measuring occupational status and social mobility affected different aspects of one explanation that Peter Blau and (...) Otis Dudley <span class='Hi'>Duncan</span> offered in their sociological classic, The American Occupational Structure . He uses the findings from this case study to meet objections to the erotetic model. Key Words: explanation • social science • erotetic • why-question • context. (shrink)