Explanation and Epistemology

William G. Lycan

in The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology

Published in print October 2005 | ISBN: 9780195301700
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Explanation and Epistemology

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This article proposes that explanation and epistemology are related in at least three ways. First, “to explain something is an epistemic act and to have something explained is to learn.” This article begins its account of explanation by drawing out several paradigms for scientific explanation, but it finds it unlikely that scientific explanation is captured by a single set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Noting, however, that scientific explanation does not exhaust an account of explanation in general, it moves on to a second way in which explanation is related to epistemology: by the idea of explanatory inference. To account for a hypothesis' being “the best,” this article introduces “pragmatic virtues” that can increase the value of a hypothesis. The third way in which explanation relates to epistemology claims that a belief can be justified if it is arrived at by explanatory inference.

Keywords: explanation; epistemology; epistemic act; hypothesis; pragmatic virtues

Article.  11418 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Epistemology ; Philosophy of Science

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