Explanation and understanding
- 338 Downloads
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.
KeywordsCausal explanation Kairetic account Multiple realizability Causal patterns Communication
Michael Strevens has given me a good deal of helpful feedback on these ideas and the paper itself. Alistair Isaac, Teru Miyake, Joel Velasco, and two anonymous referees also provided helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper.
- Achinstein, P. (1983). The nature of explanation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Bromberger, S. (1966). Why-questions. In R. Colodny (Ed.), Mind and cosmos (pp. 86–111). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
- Cover, J. A., & Curd, M. (Eds.) (1998). Philosophy of science: The central issues. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
- Dowe, P. (2000). Physical causation. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Garfinkel, A. (1981). Forms of explanation: Rethinking the questions in social theory. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Putnam, H. (1975). Philosophy and our mental life. In Philosophical papers (Vol. 2, chap. 14, pp. 291–303). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Strevens, M. (2009). Depth: An account of scientific explanation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Woodward, J. (2003). Making things happen: A theory of causal explanation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar