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Philosophical Studies

, Volume 140, Issue 1, pp 103–115 | Cite as

Backwards explanation

  • C. S. Jenkins
  • Daniel Nolan
Article

Abstract

We discuss explanation of an earlier event by a later event, and argue that prima facie cases of backwards event explanation are ubiquitous. Some examples: (1) I am tidying my flat because my brother is coming to visit tomorrow. (2) The scarlet pimpernels are closing because it is about to rain. (3) The volcano is smoking because it is going to erupt soon. We then look at various ways people might attempt to explain away these prima facie cases by arguing that in each case the ‘real’ explanation is something else. We argue that none of the explaining-away strategies are successful, and so any plausible account of explanation should either make room for backwards explanation, or have a good story to tell about why it doesn’t have to.

Keywords

Explanation Teleology Functional explanation 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank members of the ANU Explanation Reading Group, as well as audiences at the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference 2007, the Arché Core Seminar and the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference 2007. We also particularly thank Trenton Merricks and Alyssa Ney for their commentaries at the BSPC. Daniel Nolan’s work on this paper was supported a Philip Leverhulme Prize awarded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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