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This is a book about explanation. Its origins lie in the all too frequent observation that our way of
thinking often does not match the world. Such mismatches give rise to ambiguity and uncertainty.
The ambiguity, in turn, acts as both a constraint on possible actions (including the action of reliable
prediction) and the desire to “explain” what is going on. Explanation is the name for the process
we use to answer the questions raised by observed ambiguities. Explanation is also the name for
the product of such processes. This process/product divergence is merely a hint of the many
conflicting approaches to be found in the contemporary understanding of explanation. This book
is the first in decades to attempt to bring these conflicting approaches together and to offer a
compelling narrative to explore how those conflicts can converge.
Chapter 2 -- A Place in History
Alicia Juarrero
Juarrero’s contribution offers a broad strokes account of the history of explanation, tracing central
themes in our understanding of explanation from the days of the pre-Socratics up through the
contemporary literature. By necessity, Juarrero can only offer a rough sketch of the evolution of
explanation; however, her account offers to ground the reader’s understanding of explanation
within a rich historical context. Juarrero argues that aspects of our contemporary understanding of
explanation can be traced back to a pre-Socratic explanatory desiderata: tracing lineage back to a
divine genesis. While the Socratic conception of explanation divorces itself from conceptions of
the divine, successful explanations link explanadum to context-less, unobservable explanans.
Tracing this criteria for a successful explanation through the early modern period, Juarrero notes
a similarity between the Socratic explanatory desiderata and a strand of thought in the
contemporary literature: explanandum are to be explained by subsumption under context-less,
unobservable laws.
Chapter 3 -- The Context of Our Query
Michael Lissack
This chapter is intended to serve the function of a literature review: locating the present work
within the context and structures of existing research and literature. To explain is to "remove
puzzlement" and "increase intelligibility" - to describe one thing in terms of something else.
Explanation is thus "reduction to the familiar." It is what is strange or surprising that we do not
understand; a good explanation gives us understanding by making the phenomenon familiar,
presumably by relating it to other things that are already familiar. That context dependence raises
significant issues regarding both ontology and epistemology - issues that many theorists believe