Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 1, pp 197–219 | Cite as

Against explanatory realism

  • Elanor TaylorEmail author


Explanatory realism is the position that all explanations give information about whatever metaphysically determines the explanandum. This view is popular and plays a central role in metaphysics, but in this paper I argue that explanatory realism is false. In Sect. 1 I introduce explanatory realism in its weak and strong versions, and discuss the argumentative work that explanatory realism is used for in contemporary metaphysics. In Sect. 2 I present a series of problem cases for explanatory realism, including explanation by analogy, explanations involving rules, reduction ad absurdum explanations and certain statistical explanations. In Sect. 3 I consider and reject two modified versions of explanatory realism: the position that explanatory realism is true only of explanation in metaphysics, and the position that determinative explanation is the most complete form of explanation. In conclusion I consider explanatory antirealism and explanatory pluralism as alternatives to explanatory realism.


Explanation Metaphysics Causation Grounding 



Thanks to Paul Audi, Stephen Biggs, Finnur Dellsén, Ranpal Dosanjh, Samuel Fletcher, David Kovacs, Marc Lange, Kerry McKenzie, Elizabeth Miller, Alex Skiles and Megan Wallace for helpful feedback and discussion. Thanks to audiences at the Open Session of the Aristotelian Society, the Central States Philosophical Association, the Iowa Philosophical Society, the University of Reading and the UNC Chapel Hill Philosophy of Science Workshop. Thanks also to the Iowa State University M&E Research Group.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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