The Emergence of Scientific Explanation as a Problem for Philosophy of Science: Aristotle, Nagel, and Hempel

In Matthias Neuber & Adam Tamas Tuboly (eds.), Ernest Nagel: Philosophy of Science and the Fight for Clarity. Springer. pp. 67-87 (2021)
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In this paper I trace Ernest Nagel’s earliest ideas on explanation by investigating his course-notes of the 1930s. At Columbia University there was an increasing interest in the study of Aristotle. As I show, Nagel’s focus on the explanatory aim of science originated from his reading of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. Through his teaching of Aristotle, Nagel inspired his New York colleagues to focus on a philosophical analysis of explanation. I claim that this resulted in Carl Hempel’s earliest work on scientific explanation. Although scientific explanation was not a central topic for philosophers of science in the 1940s or 1950s, Hempel and Nagel’s interest in the topic helped to canonize it in a period when the topics and methods in philosophy of science became increasingly standardized.



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Fons Dewulf
Tilburg University

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