Minds and Machines

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 277–289 | Cite as

Explanations in Software Engineering: The Pragmatic Point of View

  • Jan De Winter


This article reveals that explanatory practice in software engineering is in accordance with pragmatic explanatory pluralism, which states that explanations should at least partially be evaluated by their practical use. More specifically, I offer a defense of the idea that several explanation-types are legitimate in software engineering, and that the appropriateness of an explanation-type depends on (a) the engineer’s interests, and (b) the format of the explanation-seeking question he asks, with this format depending on his interests. This idea is defended by considering examples that are representative for explanatory practice in software engineering. Different kinds of technological explanation are spelled out, and the dependence of their appropriateness on interests and question-formats is extensively illustrated.


Explanation Explanatory pluralism Explanatory power Epistemic interests Engineering 



This research was supported by subventions from the Research Foundation—Flanders through research project 3G003109. I am very grateful to Erik Weber and Jeroen Van Bouwel for helping me to improve this paper. Special thanks to Dries De Winter, for guiding me into the world of computer programming, and for reviewing this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Logic and Philosophy of ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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