Basic HTML Version

most optimistic hoped for an underlying unity: “It is my hope that the causal theory of
scientific explanation … is reasonably adequate for the characterization of explanation in
most scientific contexts in the physical, biological, and social sciences as long as we do not
become involved in quantum mechanics.” Context dependence poses challenges if
explanation is to meet Rescher’s (1970) standard: “To explain a fact scientifically is ... to
adduce reasons to show why this fact obtains rather than some other amongst its possible
alternatives. This requires going beyond establishing that the fact is actually the case to
showing that (in some sense) it had to be the case.”
Most hard scientists would suggest that the divergence among the domains is “real,”
and thus that the techniques used to demonstrate “cause” and to “explain” are likely also
different. Hawking and Mlodinow (2011) argue that because no one model is adequate to
explain reality, “one cannot be said to be more real than the other.” When these models are
coupled to theories, they form entire worldviews (Shermer, 2011). Kellert (2009) claims:
“Disciplines can be identified and distinguished by their objects of study (domains,
phenomena), by their cognitive tools (theories, techniques), or by their social structure (turf,
journals).” And Reutlinger (2013) comments: “It is a majority view in philosophy of biology
that (fundamental) physics states universal and exceptionless laws, while the biological
sciences rely on nonuniversal and physically contingent generalizations.” In so asserting,
these authors raise serious issues for the social sciences:
“Explanation belongs to the tasks of the social sciences. What is more controversial,
however, are the features and characteristics of explanations in social contexts. …
providing a complete explanation of a complex phenomenon is not always (and often
not) possible and that incomplete recursive decompositions have to be accommodated
in the toolkit of the social scientist. If the epistemic sense of explanation is to succeed
in increasing understanding of the world, rather than merely making up interesting
stories about it, the stories had better be describing the mechanisms in the world.”
(Russo, 2009)
“When social perceivers offer behavior explanations, they rely (a) on a network of
concepts that filter, classify, and organize perceptual input and existing knowledge
and (b) on a number of subsequent processes, such as inference and simulation that
deliver an explanatory proposition.” (Malle, 2004)
“An explanation is a manifestation of order; one expects an explanation only in the
context of order. An explanation is usually needed when some facts appear random
and disconnected; one wishes then to disclose their order and relate the facts in
question to other cases that share the same order. One explains by indicating the
principle that prevails over the explanandum.” (Hon & Rakover, 2001)
“The task of explanation is about ‘explaining’ to another person, but the way in which
this task is accomplished involves the systemization of first-person perspectives and
the identification of ecological invariants – ‘objects’ in the sense of obdurate
relational patterns. Put somewhat differently, the task of explanation is not to