European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 55–70

Backwards explanation and unification

Original paper in Philosophy of Science

DOI: 10.1007/s13194-015-0121-1

Cite this article as:
Fry, R.J. Euro Jnl Phil Sci (2016) 6: 55. doi:10.1007/s13194-015-0121-1


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.


Explanation Unificationism Backward explanation Prediction Retrodiction 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, College of Arts and SciencesSouthern Illinois University EdwardsvilleEdwardsvilleUSA

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