Page 32 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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final meaning is the criterion for the understanding. When coherence is wanting, we
say that understanding is deficient. The harmony of all the details with the whole is
the criterion of correct understanding. The failure to achieve this harmony means that
understanding has failed.” (Gadamer)
Approximately half of the authors in this volume hold one belief or the other with respect to
scientific realism and some form of pragmatic constructivism. The interchange between these
two worldviews formed the heart of the interesting dialogue during our event: Modes of
Explanation. Both perspectives have a concern for explanation by means of category
membership. Still other kinds of explanation raise concerns for one perspective and not the
other. For example, functional explanations are not explanatory from the perspective of
pragmatic constructivism, because a functional explanation fails to create any kind of first-
order affordance for action (descriptions may provide background information, and thus
create a second-order affordance, but fail to create an enablement or a constraint on action in
and of themselves). By contrast, the two kinds of context-dependent explanations that play
critical roles in pragmatic constructivism – explanations that point to aspects of the context
that enabled such-and-such and explanations that point to aspects of the context such that,
were these contexts absent, this-and-that would have come about – are similarly not
considered to be explanatory from the perspective of the scientific realist, for each kind of
“explanation” points to contingent features of the world as opposed to bottoming out in
robust, exceptionless laws.
Frank Rich (2011), in his farewell column in the
New York Times
, noted that the
pressures of writing for a readership “can push you to have stronger opinions than you
actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run
roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion.” We believe that unambiguous
conclusions about the nature of explanations are a mistake and thus have undertaken to find a
way to preserve the very ambiguity that gives nuance its due.
To accomplish this, a concept that we believe helps to reconcile the Science 1 and
Science 2 perspectives is the notion of concurrent but orthogonal. Science 1 and Science 2
are indeed different, but they are not oppositional. They are also not “super-positional,”
where one would claim a status of truth only in the light of a revealed contingency.
Concurrent but orthogonal suggests a simultaneity that is perpendicular, much like the planes
in Figure I.3.
[insert Figure 3]
Figure I.3.
Perpendicular planes
Of course, these planes are not existing in their own space, but have a context – thus
the shape we suggest looks more like the plane-crossed ellipsoid in Figure I.4.
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