Explanation and understanding
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- Potochnik, A. Euro Jnl Phil Sci (2011) 1: 29. doi:10.1007/s13194-010-0002-6
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Michael Strevens offers an account of causal explanation according to which explanatory practice is shaped by counterbalanced commitments to representing causal influence and abstracting away from overly specific details. In this paper, I challenge a key feature of that account. I argue that what Strevens calls explanatory frameworks figure prominently in explanatory practice because they actually improve explanations. This suggestion is simple but has far-reaching implications. It affects the status of explanations that cite multiply realizable properties; changes the explanatory role of causal factors with small effect; and undermines Strevens’ titular explanatory virtue, depth. This results in greater coherence with explanatory practice and accords with the emphasis that Strevens places on explanatory patterns. Ultimately, my suggestion preserves a tight connection between explanation and the creation of understanding by taking into account explanations’ role in communication.