It is observed that in ordinary everyday causal explanations often just one causal factor is mentioned. One causal factor carries the explanatory burden, even if there are several causal factors that are responsible for the event to be explained. This paper deals with the question of how to account for this explanatory selection. I argue for a pragmatic stance towards explanation, that we must attend to the question–answer situation as a whole and the context of the explanation. The context of (...) an explanation includes the inquirer's and the explainer's beliefs and presuppositions relevant for the explanation-seeking question, and these are encoded in a reference class. Furthermore I argue that the explanation-giving answer contains an implicit counterfactual claim, the explanation-giving counterfactual. The solution to the problem of explanatory selection is to be found in the presuppositions encoded by the reference class and the eg-counterfactual. In short we select as explanatory that factor which, together with the presupposition encoded in the reference class we believe will make the eg-counterfactual true. (shrink)
This paper defends a unificationist theory of explanation. I first explore the notion of understanding entrenched by the unificationist. Then I present an overview of various kinds of causal statements and explanations. It is claimed that only genuine causal law statements have explanatory power. Finally, I attempt to fit causal explanations into the unificationist theory of explanation. In this way, I try to provide an account of how causal explanations provide understanding of the phenomena that they explain.
What is the relation between scientific explanation and understanding? The thesis investigates a notion of understanding that is believed to be central to scientific explanation. The role of understanding in explanation is double: it is both an essential component, as well as a criterion, by which we select bona fide explanations from non-explanations. The model of explanation that is outlined in the thesis is a version of the unificationist model of explanation. In the thesis, this model is compared to Hempel's (...) covering law model. The two models share some assumptions, but as it turns out, the unificationist model has more resources and is better suited to meet some of the objections that have been thought to be detrimental to the covering law model. The final part of the thesis is an investigation of theory reduction. The contention is that reduction is best accounted for as a sort of explanation, and it is argued that as such, it is best understood within the framework of the unificationist model of explanation that is outlined in the first part of the thesis. (shrink)