Explaining Explanation
Ruben (David-Hillel)
Source: Ruben - Explaining Explanation
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Preface

  1. This book is written in the conviction that the concept of explanation should not be exclusively hijacked by the philosophy of the natural sciences. As I repeat often in the following, like knowledge, explanation is an epistemic concept, and therefore has a philosophical location within theory of knowledge, widely conceived. The philosophy of science has great relevance for a theory of explanation, just as it does for discussions of knowledge. But it is not the sole proprietor of either concept.
  2. [… snip …]
  3. My intellectual debts are many.
    1. Peter Milne read ancestors of chapters II and V, and generously helped me with some of the more technical parts of chapter II.
    2. Jonathan Barnes read and commented on an ancestor of chapter III.
    3. Graham MacDonald and Mark Sainsbury commented on, and made many helpful suggestions for the improvement of early versions of chapters I and V.
    4. Peter Lipton provided me with many fruitful discussions of explanation generally, and also commented in detail on chapters I, IV, V, and VI.
    5. Gary Clarke and Paul Noordhof read over the whole manuscript in an almost final form; both made many useful suggestions throughout the manuscript, and saved me from numerous errors.
    6. It would, perhaps, not be inappropriate in a paragraph on intellectual debts to mention my deep respect for the literature I discuss (even when I argue with it), and the extent to which I have learned and profited from it. This is obvious in the case of the historical figures, but, obvious or not, it is similarly the case with the contemporary literature on explanation which I cite (and some which I do not have space or time to cite). Whatever I have been able to discern has only been by standing on their shoulders.
    7. I have learned a great deal from everything I have read, but perhaps the greatest single influence on my thinking has been the work of Peter Achinstein.
  4. It is so self-evident that only the writer himself can be responsible for any remaining mistakes and errors, that writers often attempt to discover increasingly novel or amusing ways in which to say this. I shall not try; I know that the philosophical influence of all these people made the book much better than it would otherwise have been, and it cannot be the fault of any of them that they were unable to detect all of the errors I made, or unable to ensure that I was capable of making good every error they pointed out to me.
  5. In each of my previously published books and articles, I have thanked Mark Sainsbury for philosophical conversation, which - all too often - has been one-sided, with him as teacher and me as pupil. I, like most philosophers, cannot work without constant philosophical discussion, and I have him principally to thank for bringing it about that I live in a philosophically acceptable environment.
  6. The strategy of the book is almost, but not quite, straightforward. In the historical portion of the book, chapters II, III, and IV, I discuss the theories of explanation of Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, and Carl Hempel. Although there is little explicit philosophical work on explanation between Aristotle and Mill - a gap of over two thousand years - there is much implicit in the writings of Bacon, Berkeley, and many other philosophers that is relevant to explanation, but which considerations of space have forced me to neglect. I discuss and state my view on some issues as I move through these historical chapters, but in the main I reserve chapters V, VI, and VII for the elaboration of my own views on explanation.
  7. I have not yet mentioned the purpose of chapter I. The placement of this chapter has given me some pause. As I began my discussions of the historical figures, I found myself in constant need of a technical vocabulary with which to make the issues they treat clear and precise. I therefore decided to devote an opening, non-historical chapter to questions of terminology, and to classification of kinds of theories of explanation. The danger in this strategy is that the reader will not really see the point of chapter I, until much later in the book. I might suggest, for readers who begin to tire of chapter I, that they proceed to chapter II, and return to chapter I only when they find a need for a discussion of the issues it deals with. I decided not to relocate chapter I to a later position in the book, but to leave it in place, allowing readers to decide when the reading of the chapter would be appropriate.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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