The Pragmatic Character of Explanation

PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1984:275 - 292 (1984)
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Theories of explanation are characterized as being either pragmatic or non-pragmatic, without a clear sense of what this is supposed to mean. The present paper offers a definition of a "pragmatic explanation-sentence", and in terms of this, of a "pragmatic theory of explanation". It is argued that van Fraassen's theory of explanation, despite claims to the contrary, is not genuinely pragmatic. By contrast, the author's own "illocutionary" theory is pragmatic. Attention is devoted particularly to sentences of the form "E is a good explanation of q", which, it is urged, are pragmatic in a strong sense. In defense of this claim, and of the advantages of a pragmatic account generally, appeal is made to Rutherford's 1911 subatomic explanation of the results of his scattering experiments. Implications of a pragmatic theory are drawn for the debate between realists and anti-realists and absolutists and relativists.



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Peter Achinstein
Johns Hopkins University

Citations of this work

Explanation.Martin Glazier - 2020 - In Michael J. Raven (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Metaphysical Grounding. London: pp. 121-132.
Understanding Brute Facts.Ludwig Fahrbach - 2005 - Synthese 145 (3):449-466.
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