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Afterword 4 -- Explanation and Pluralism
Beckett Sterner
How does the multitude of perspectives on explanation fit together, if at all? The "Modes of
Explanation" conference was daring in the way it brought together scholars whose fields ranged
from philosophy of science to narrative theory, crossed the analytic-continental divide in
philosophy, and incorporated business practitioners interested in management and organization
theory. The range of approaches we see in Modes of Explanation indicates that any sort of
commensurately broad pluralism about explanation must also dig quite deep into our assumptions.
The challenge for pluralism that I suggest here is to describe the variety of modes or types of
practical interdependence that can exist within a pluralist setting.
Explaining is the ability to relate a narrative to the questioner, which, at a minimum, allows a “fit”
between question asked and “attended to” context and, in depth in the form of acquired
understanding, allows the explainee to apply such narrative to new contexts and new questions.
The shift from a study of explanation to the study of explaining, from content to context, from
explainer to questioner is analogically captured by the insertion of the half twist to convert a flat
circle into a Mobius strip. Our understanding of what it means “to explain” is enhanced when we
remember that both the circle and the strip are ever-present, congruent but orthogonal.