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Three conceptions of explaining how possibly - and one reductive account

Persson, Johannes LU (2011) EPSA 09: 2nd Conference of the European Philosophy of Science In The European Philosophy of Science Association Proceedings 1. p.275-286
Abstract
Philosophers of science have often favoured reductive approaches to how-possibly explanation. This article identifies three varieties of how-possibly explanation and, in so doing, helps to show that this form of explanation is a rich and interesting phenomenon

in its own right.

The first variety approaches “How is it possible that X?” by showing that, despite appearances, X is not ruled out by what was believed prior to X. This can sometimes be

achieved by removing misunderstandings about the implications of one’s belief system

(prior to observing X), but more often than not it involves a modification of this belief

system so that one’s acceptance of X does not generate a ... (More)
Philosophers of science have often favoured reductive approaches to how-possibly explanation. This article identifies three varieties of how-possibly explanation and, in so doing, helps to show that this form of explanation is a rich and interesting phenomenon

in its own right.

The first variety approaches “How is it possible that X?” by showing that, despite appearances, X is not ruled out by what was believed prior to X. This can sometimes be

achieved by removing misunderstandings about the implications of one’s belief system

(prior to observing X), but more often than not it involves a modification of this belief

system so that one’s acceptance of X does not generate a contradiction.

The second variety of how-possibly explanation offers a potential how-explanation of

X; it is usually followed by a range of further potential how-explanations of the same

phenomenon. In recent literature the factual claims implied by this sort of how-possibly

explanation have been downplayed, whereas the heuristic role of mapping the space of

conceptual possibilities has been emphasized. Below I will focus especially on this

truth-bracketing sense of potentiality when I look at this variety of explanation more

closely.

The third variety of how-possibly explanation has attracted less interest. It presents a

partial how-explanation of X, and typically it aims to establish the existence of a

mechanism by which X could be, and was, generated without filling in all the details. It

stands out as the natural alternative for advocates of ontic how-possibly explanation.

This article translates divisions like those evident in Salmon’s (1984) view that

explanation-concepts can be broadly divided into epistemic, modal, and ontic across to

the context of how-possibly explanations. Moreover, it is argued that each of the three

varieties of how-possibly explanation mentioned above has a place in science. That this

is so may be especially interesting to philosophers: we are often misled by the promises

made on behalf of various why-explanation accounts, and seem to have forgotten nearly

everything about the fruitful diversity of how-possibly explanations. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
publishing date
type
Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding
publication status
published
subject
keywords
cause, explanation, mechanism, how-possibly explanation, how-explanation
in
The European Philosophy of Science Association Proceedings
editor
de Regt, Henk; Hartmann, Stephan and Okasha, Samir
volume
1
pages
275 - 286
publisher
Springer
conference name
EPSA 09: 2nd Conference of the European Philosophy of Science
external identifiers
  • WOS:000307264900024
ISBN
978-94-007-2403-7
978-94-007-2404-4
DOI
10.1007/978-94-007-2404-4_24
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
48f2f285-38b6-41f7-b94d-dc057bdd33c4 (old id 1712141)
date added to LUP
2010-11-03 08:59:49
date last changed
2016-11-05 15:06:33
@misc{48f2f285-38b6-41f7-b94d-dc057bdd33c4,
  abstract     = {Philosophers of science have often favoured reductive approaches to how-possibly explanation. This article identifies three varieties of how-possibly explanation and, in so doing, helps to show that this form of explanation is a rich and interesting phenomenon<br/><br>
in its own right.<br/><br>
The first variety approaches “How is it possible that X?” by showing that, despite appearances, X is not ruled out by what was believed prior to X. This can sometimes be<br/><br>
achieved by removing misunderstandings about the implications of one’s belief system<br/><br>
(prior to observing X), but more often than not it involves a modification of this belief<br/><br>
system so that one’s acceptance of X does not generate a contradiction.<br/><br>
The second variety of how-possibly explanation offers a potential how-explanation of<br/><br>
X; it is usually followed by a range of further potential how-explanations of the same<br/><br>
phenomenon. In recent literature the factual claims implied by this sort of how-possibly<br/><br>
explanation have been downplayed, whereas the heuristic role of mapping the space of<br/><br>
conceptual possibilities has been emphasized. Below I will focus especially on this<br/><br>
truth-bracketing sense of potentiality when I look at this variety of explanation more<br/><br>
closely.<br/><br>
The third variety of how-possibly explanation has attracted less interest. It presents a<br/><br>
partial how-explanation of X, and typically it aims to establish the existence of a<br/><br>
mechanism by which X could be, and was, generated without filling in all the details. It<br/><br>
stands out as the natural alternative for advocates of ontic how-possibly explanation.<br/><br>
This article translates divisions like those evident in Salmon’s (1984) view that<br/><br>
explanation-concepts can be broadly divided into epistemic, modal, and ontic across to<br/><br>
the context of how-possibly explanations. Moreover, it is argued that each of the three<br/><br>
varieties of how-possibly explanation mentioned above has a place in science. That this<br/><br>
is so may be especially interesting to philosophers: we are often misled by the promises<br/><br>
made on behalf of various why-explanation accounts, and seem to have forgotten nearly<br/><br>
everything about the fruitful diversity of how-possibly explanations.},
  author       = {Persson, Johannes},
  editor       = {de Regt, Henk and Hartmann, Stephan and Okasha, Samir},
  isbn         = {978-94-007-2403-7},
  keyword      = {cause,explanation,mechanism,how-possibly explanation,how-explanation},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {09},
  pages        = {275--286},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0x7d19e98)},
  series       = {The European Philosophy of Science Association Proceedings},
  title        = {Three conceptions of explaining how possibly - and one reductive account},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2404-4_24},
  volume       = {1},
  year         = {2011},
}