How General Do Theories of Explanation Need To Be?

Noûs 44 (2):305-328 (2010)
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Abstract

Theories of explanation seek to tell us what distinctively explanatory information is. The most ambitious ones, such as the DN-account, seek to tell us what an explanation is, tout court. Less ambitious ones, such as causal theories, restrict themselves to a particular domain of inquiry. The least ambitious theories constitute outright skepticism, holding that there is no reasonably unified phenomenon to give an account of. On these views, it is impossible to give any theories of explanation at all. I argue that both the less ambitious and outright skeptical varieties are committed to a certain context-sensitivity of our explanatory discourse. And though this discourse is almost certainly context-sensitive in some respects, it does not exhibit the context-sensitivity less than fully ambitious theories are committed to. Therefore, all accounts that seek to restrict themselves in scope, including causal accounts of explanation, fail

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Bernhard Nickel
Harvard University

Citations of this work

A logic for 'because'.Benjamin Schnieder - 2011 - Review of Symbolic Logic 4 (3):445-465.
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Backing Without Realism.Elanor Taylor - 2022 - Erkenntnis 87 (3):1295-1315.
Counterfactual Scheming.Sam Baron - 2020 - Mind 129 (514):535-562.

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The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science.Nancy Cartwright - 1999 - New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
The scientific image.C. Van Fraassen Bas - 1980 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Literal Meaning.François Récanati - 2002 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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