The Pragmatics of Explanation <sup>1</sup>

Bas C. van Fraassen

in The Scientific Image

Published in print December 1980 | ISBN: 9780198244271
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597473 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy

 The Pragmatics of Explanation  1

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Explanatory power is a complex theoretical virtue, not reducible to empirical strength or adequacy, which includes other virtues as its own preconditions. Since this virtue provides one of the main criteria by which theories are evaluated, it presents thus a challenge to any empiricist account of science. After a critical account of attempted explications of the concept of scientific explanation, this chapter offers a pragmatic account that identifies explanations with answers to why‐questions. Since such questions are set by the questioner, and have their family of relevant direct answers determined by the presuppositions, values, and interests involved in the questioning, that makes explanation relative to contextual factors. On this understanding, evaluations of scientific explanation cannot play the role required for their use in support of scientific realism––and, incidentally, the large array of standard puzzles in the literature on this subject are solved.

Keywords: contextual factor; explanation; explanatory power; pragmatic; presupposition; scientific explanation; theoretical virtue; value; why‐question

Chapter.  24944 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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