Page 63 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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explanation is that people know quite readily if an explanation that has been supplied
to them is sensible or not. To do this, we must have some idea of what we were
looking for. In other words, accepting an explanation as an explanation depends
heavily upon the goals one had in the first place. A proposed explanation is an
explanation if it relates to one’s implicit goals.” (Schank, 1986)
When borrowing occurs across disciplines it can be exciting, but it can also be error prone.
As Barondes (1995) says: “Hazards exist in integrating theories of one discipline into
another”: [the] ”invitation of scorn for imbedding meaningless comparisons”; “application of
scientific labels may substitute for a considered analysis”; “misleading labels frame the
inquiry in a manner that biases the conclusions and deceives scholars into disregarding
certain lines of thought”; “such terminology facilitates lexical legerdemain, obfuscating
logical leaps”; and the practice “engenders in the reader a false sense of understanding the
scientific area.” These errors can affect almost any area of cross-scientific endeavor, but
explanation itself seems especially vulnerable.
“There is little consensus among specialists on how explanation in a scientific context
should be characterized, and three main approaches appear to be alive today: the
formal-logical view, the ontological view, and the pragmatic view. … The formal-
logical approach considers scientific explanation as something quite distinct and very
different from ordinary explanation. It holds that every scientific explanation should
have certain objective features by which it can be completely characterized and
understood. … The ontological view considers a scientific explanation to be
something that involves causal mechanisms or other factual structures. The idea is
that facts and events explain things. In particular, causes explain their effects. … The
pragmatic view sees scientific explanations to be basically similar to explanations in
everyday life. It regards every explanation as an appropriate answer to an explanation-
seeking question, emphasizing that the context of the discourse, including the
explainer’s interest and background knowledge, determines the appropriate answer.”
(Faye, 2004)
Note that Faye argues that pragmatists like the everyday layperson believe that explanations
are accepted as such when there is an observable lineage between the interests of the person
asking for the explanation and the content of the explanation offered. Pragmatic explanations
have an explicit context dependence that seems to be in remission in the formal-logical model
(that is, present only in the determinations of truth and/or reliable predictivity) and only
tacitly acknowledged in the “ontological” or “causal” model. As Salmon (1984) says,
“Underlying causal mechanisms hold the key to our understanding of the world,” because
“causal processes, causal interactions, and causal laws provide the mechanisms by which the
world works; to understand why certain things happen, we need to see how they are produced
by these mechanisms.” The relation between this latter point and context dependence is
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