A Defense of Achinstein's Pragmatism about Explanation

Adam M. Goldstein

in Philosophy of Science Matters

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738625
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894642 | DOI:
A Defense of Achinstein's Pragmatism about Explanation

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Carl Hempel and many others influenced by him claim that explanations in science require showing why the event to be explained occurred, by showing that it is necessary, given the laws of nature and the particular conditions prior to the event's occurrence. Hempel also sometimes uses an alternative formulation of this condition for explanation: the explanation must show that the event ought to have been expected. This rules out explaining chance events, which do not occur necessarily, and whose occurrence is not to be expected. Hempel's view also rules out historical explanations that, some claim, are of explanatory value because they describe, in narrative form, how the event to be explained occurred. Against Hempel's view, this chapter argues for a pluralistic, pragmatic view about explanation. According to this view of explanation, there is clear warrant for regarding narratives as having explanatory value, even in cases in which the event to be explained occurs by chance. The most forceful and well-developed statement of this view is advanced by Peter Achinstein in works such as The Nature of Explanation. Though he presents the view clearly and precisely, Achinstein does not mount a strong defense of it against Hempelians, nor do others who adopt the view.

Keywords: explanatory pragmatism; Carl Hempel; Peter Achinstein; how questions; symmetry thesis; explanatory pluralism; organic evolution; historical explanation

Chapter.  5000 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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