Page 25 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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unfolds through the dialectic of understanding, explanation, and comprehension.
Understanding seems to be better thought of as the acceptance of a structure into which the
target understanding can be “comfortably placed.” Another way of saying this is that
understanding involves locating the target into a context in which it seems to be coherent.
While contexts are often quite large, the frames we use when seeking to explain need not be.
If the mode of our explanation is to place the target into a pre-given structure, then both
context and frame will be as large or small as the structure itself. If, by contrast, the mode of
our explanation is to detail a mechanism for “how” something happens or the conditions that
“allow” for action to occur, then the context will be large but the frame rather small. This
contrast between frame and context reflects the notion that each explanation we encounter
contributes to the larger environment that in the aggregate makes up our cognitive
understanding. This contrast also sheds some light on the role that recursive inquiry among
description, explanation, and understanding can have in constituting and revising our
cognitive environs (cf. Runciman, 1983).
Forms of explanation are themselves context dependent. Social systems differ from
physical systems in that the use of theories changes the behavior of social systems. As
participants in these systems act, they do so on the basis of reflexive consideration of context,
goals, and affordances drawing on their own mental models (which are themselves the
product of prior contexts and current attention) in anticipation of possible outcomes. These
recursive reflexive considerations (or as Piaget (1929) would have called it, learning through
actions) have no parallel among the physical sciences. The additional considerations give rise
to questions of objectivity, discovery, and the basis for scientific explanation.
The basis for social sciences and design (pragmatic assumptions) is different from the
“hard” sciences. There is a need to deal with ideas and communication in social systems.
Thus, the philosophy of science needs expansion to include paths to the potential logics of the
social sciences. Example questions might include asking “What is the basic unit (individual,
group, set, dynamic, environment, etc.)?” Sciences of the sentient will require different
languages and different frameworks of thinking than are commonly used in the hard sciences
of non-sentient beings. Meta-level thinking is an opportunity that can create the need for new
strategies of simplification so as to meet requisite variety.
Objectivity and a goal of reliable predictivity are the hallmarks of what we shall label
Science 1. These are the hard sciences as traditionally taught and as used as references by
philosophers of science. Physics is the exemplar of Science 1. In the Science 1 world we
label and categorize via deduction, probabilistic inference, and induction. Science 1 excludes
context dependence, thus when it is forced to deal with the possibility instead asserts
ceteris
paribus
.
Discovery and attunement to context are the hallmarks of what we shall refer to as
Science 2. In the Science 2 world we instead seek to identify relationships, affordances, and
potential actions. We ask questions rather than seek to label or categorize. Science 2
explicitly makes room for the context dependencies that Science 1 has excluded. These can
be characterized as emergence, volition, reflexive anticipation, heterogeneity, and design,
among others. The philosophical sources necessary to understand the hermeneutics of social
3