Backwards explanation and unification
It is an open question whether we ever successfully explain earlier states by appealing to later ones, and, further, whether this is even possible. Typically, these two questions are answered in the same way: if we give and accept ‘backwards explanations,’ they must be possible; if they are impossible, we are right to reject them. I argue that backwards explanations are brittle—they fail if the future event does not occur—and this is part of the reason they are not accepted about the actual world. This does not mean, however, that they must be rejected entirely. I argue that backwards explanations are possible for certain systems. This shields unificationism about scientific explanation from some recent criticisms.
KeywordsExplanation Unificationism Backward explanation Prediction Retrodiction
- Fountain, H. (2015). ‘Pressure, and Mystery, on the Rise,’ The New York Times, retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/science/predicting-what-a-volcano-may-or-may-not-do-is-as-tricky-as-it-is-crucial-as-iceland-well-knows.html.
- Kitcher, P. (1989). Explanatory Unification and the Causal Structure of the World. In P. Kitcher & W. Salmon (Eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Salmon, W. (1989). Four Decades of Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Woodward, J. (2003). Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar