Explanation

Authored by: David Henderson

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Social Science

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138825758
eBook ISBN: 9781315410098
Adobe ISBN: 9781315410081

10.4324/9781315410098.ch9

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Abstract

When thinking about scientific and social scientific explanation, one cannot simply reflect on the common use of terms such as ‘explanation’ and ‘explains’. Doing so may afford some perspective, but scientific explanations would turn out to be a special class of what passes for explanation in common and wide usages. Such terms are very flexible or diverse in their usage. One plausible understanding of them is that they mark out what counts as satisfactory answers to a rather diverse set of questions. One can explain why something happened, of course; and this prominently includes some scientific explanations—those explaining why some event occurred or why some regularity obtains. But one can also explain why it is good or right to do some act—and while scientific results may be relevant there, such are not of themselves scientific explanations. One can explain how some item (perhaps an organ) functions within a system (perhaps that which maintains blood sugar in a certain range). Again, this includes some scientific explanations. But one can also explain how one is thinking—and here an adequate explanation of how one is thinking is one that merely communicates the content of one’s thoughts. Related terms, such as ‘understanding’, are similarly broad and flexible (see, for example, Grimm 2014).

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