Page 9 - MODES of EXPLANATION

Basic HTML Version

Afterword 1 - The Scientific Attitude Toward Explanation
Lee McIntyre
The problem with explanation in the sciences is not that we do not have the right concept of what
it means to "explain" or that we misunderstand the domain of science. The problem is that many
of those who profess to seek an explanation do not actually seek knowledge, but instead
confirmation for what they already believe. What needs changing is not our conception of scientific
explanation, but instead our attitude toward it. The ability to admit that we may be wrong... that
our understanding is incomplete... that our ideology may reflect only wishful thinking... that our
descriptions may capture only a piece of the true nature of reality - that is the scientific attitude
toward explanation.
Afterword 2 -- Explanation Revisited
Jan Faye
Faye argues that understanding exists already in us as innate instincts and embodiments, as skills
and dispositions, but is also extended by learning from interpretations and explanations.
Explanations are inseparable from the way we use them and the context which gives rise to them.
Explanations and methods are quite distinct. He stresses that explanation arises in a rhetorical
situation that contains an exigency (an epistemic problem), an audience and some constraining
factors. Faye suggests however that the Science 1/Science 2 and realism/constructivism
distinctions found in much of the volume do not constitute such a constraint. Instead he suggests
that what divides realism and pragmatic constructivism seems to be the amount of influence which
one would allow that the world has on our representation. Context, interest, and contingency do
not preclude truth and objectivity, nor does the opposite.
Afterword 3 -- Is The World Completely Intelligible? A Very Short Course
Peter Achinstein
Achinstein begins his contribution with two questions: Is The World Completely Intelligible?
What does an "intelligible world" involve, whether or not we do, or even can, come to understand
this intelligibility? He argues that the completeness in intelligibility of a phenomenon, or of all
phenomena, does not require the use of a theory of everything to do the explaining, nor, in the case
of explaining all phenomena, does it require the use of a single theory to do so. Instead, whether
all phenomena can be made "completely intelligible" depends on whether all phenomena can be
(correctly) explained at some contextually fixed level of completeness. He suggests (in concert
with most of the volume's authors) that the answer to this question will depend not only on the
world and the ability of scientists, but on the standards of completeness appropriate for the context
selected, which can vary considerably.
7