Basic HTML Version

conceptions disagree on what explanations are aiming to do. An epistemic approach
links explanations with states of knowledge. On this view, an explanation of E must
be an argument that would have correctly predicted E in advance.” (Pincock, 2013)
“A satisfactory conception of scientific understanding should reflect the actual
(contemporary and historical) practice of science. It should therefore allow for
variation in standards of understanding. This variation can be accommodated in a
natural way if it is acknowledged that scientific understanding is pragmatic and
context-dependent. … A look at scientific practice teaches us that the various
intelligibility standards endorsed by philosophers (causality, visualisability, etc.) have
indeed played a role at various times and in various situations. They are therefore
certainly relevant to the analysis of scientific understanding. However, they do not
have the status of exclusiveness and immutability that is sometimes ascribed to them:
their importance and content depend on the context and are subject to change or
development.” (de Regt & Dieks, 2003)
While Hempel (1965) told us that “there is no sufficiently clear generally accepted
understanding as to what counts as a scientific explanation,” in a book about explanation
something would be very amiss if we were to fail to acknowledge the “lay” definition of
explanations and their use. To the non-philosopher, an explanation is what is offered in
response to questions of “How?” or “Why?” and such an explanation counts as “explaining”
if the questioner feels sufficiently satisfied with the answer so as to stop asking. As children
we often inquire as to the how or the why and in doing so we seek to better understand
mechanisms (how), purpose (why), and structure (frozen hows that result in a pre-given
framework and thus explain why by expressing how something fits into the framework). As
adults we are more prone to accept category membership or labels in response to “Why?”
than is the child. It is generally assumed that this is because we have a greater awareness
(acceptance?) of pre-given structure. When the question of how or why can be answered with
an “explanation” consisting of an assertion of category membership, the how has been
converted into “members of this category do x” and the why into “why x is a member of this
category.” Since the lay definition of explanation includes the requirement that the questioner
be satisfied enough to stop asking, explanations based on structure and category membership
consist of an ever-expanding web that begins with the structures we accept as pre-given when
we are children and then is ever built on (and perhaps revised) as we age.
Carnap seemed to have this in mind when defining what he called explication:
“According to these considerations, the task of explication may be characterized as
follows. If a concept is given as explicandum, the task consists in finding another
concept as its explicatum which fulfils the following requirements to a sufficient
The explicatum is to be
similar to the explicandum
in such a way that, in most
cases in which the explicandum has so far been used, the explicatum can be