A collection of essays devoted to the problem of explanation in various disciplines of science and humanities: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, economics as well as theology.
The issues covered include such topics as the interplay between explanation and understanding, the problem of a priori explanation, the limits of causal explanations in physics, the application of mathematics in biology, the relationship between proof and explanation in mathematics, and the use of mechanistic framework in neuroscience viewed from the perspective of philosophy of science. Moreover, various methodological controversies related to science and humanities are considered.
Robert Audi, Bartosz Brożek, Willem B. Drees, Michał Furman, Marcin Gorazda, Michael Heller, Mateusz Hohol, Andrzej Koleżyński, Stanisław Krajewski, Dominique Lambert, Olivier Riaudel, Jan Woleński, Krzysztof Wójtowicz, Wojciech Załuski
Bartosz Brożek, Michael Heller, Mateusz Hohol.
Explanation and Understanding
Are Explanation and Prediction Symmetric?
A Priori Explanation
Remarks on Mathematical Explanation
On the Problem of Explanation in Mathematics
Limits of Causal Explanations in Physics
Pragmatism of Chemical Explanation
“When Science Meets Historicity”. Some Questions About the Use of Mathematics in Biology
Mateusz Hohol, Michał Furman.
On Explanation in Neuroscience: The Mechanistic Framework
The Epistemic and Cognitive Concept of Explanation in Economics. An Attempt at Synthesis
The Varieties of Egoism. Some Reflections on Moral Explanation of Human Action
Willem B. Drees.
Is Explaining Religion Explaining Religion Away?
Explanation in Christian Theology: Some Points in Common with the Human Sciences
Editing: AEDDAN SHAW
Cover design: MARIUSZ BANACHOWICZ
Layout: MIROSŁAW KRZYSZKOWSKI
Publication Supported by The John Templeton Foundation Grant "The Limits of Scientific Explanation"
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Explanation is one of the most fundamental human cognitive activities. It is not surprising, since manoeuvring in the complex world we inhabit would be impossible without some comprehension of what is happening around us. In social settings, it is absolutely essential to understand the actions and beliefs of other people; otherwise, human interactions would be highly unpredictable and it would be difficult to imagine any joint undertakings. The same holds for natural phenomena. For example, once some explanation of why thunder occurs is proposed (whether in terms of the rage of gods, or through the application of modern physics), the relevant fragment of the reality is cognitively ‘domesticated’.
The case of explaining thunder is instructive for two additional reasons. First, it uncovers the causal dimension of the process of explanation. We strive to identify the causes of explained phenomena, not mere statistical correlations. To know that thunder almost always occurs whenever there is lightning, may be of some practical value; however, it is much more to know that it is lightning that produces the thunder (the lightning increases the pressure and temperature in the surrounding air, which causes it to expand violently, creating a sonic wave). Second, explanation often proceeds by unification: the same kinds of causes (e.g., the same physical laws) are applied to explain a variety of different phenomena. In this way, the complexity of the world is reduced and encapsulated into a manageable set of regularities.
There is also a psychological dimension of explanation: the need to have some understanding of the occurring phenomena is deeply rooted in human nature. While there surely exist significant individual differences between people in this respect (e.g., those of us who have a high level of the need for cognitive closure are quick to accept any, even bad explanations), there is no grounds for denying that much of our conscious effort is devoted to making sense of what is going on around us. Also, the unconscious mechanisms at work in cognition are usually shaped so as to facilitate the integration of the received stimuli into one’s conceptual scheme (for example, the heuristics described by Kahneman and Tversky, although they may lead to decisions which deviate from some abstract standards of rationality, are so designed as to provide us with quick, robust explanations of the encountered phenomena).
Explanation also has a more theoretical, sophisticated face – scientific explanation – which has been the focus of a fierce philosophical discussion. It owes much to the seminal paper by Hempel and Oppenheim, ‘Studies in the Logic of Explanation’. Their Deductive Nomological Model of scientific explanation provided a point of reference for the multifaceted literature, in which various aspects of the model have been modified or rejected. In recent years, however, the philosophical debate pertaining to scientific explanation is less preoccupied with the assessment of Hempel and Oppenheim’s theory, which was developed in the context of physics. Currently, the interest of philosophers has shifted towards other sciences, in particular biology, neuroscience and psychology. The pressing question is how to construct and evaluate explanations of mental phenomena – explanations, which clearly fail to fulfil the standards of explaining acceptable in physics.
The present volume brings together thirteen contributions which analyse different aspects and modes of explanation. Three of them (Bartosz Brożek’s ‘Explanation and Understanding’, Jan Woleński’s ‘Are Explanation and Prediction Symmetric?’, and Robert Audi’s ‘A Priori explanation’) are devoted to conceptual problems. The following six chapters inquire into the structure and limits of explanation in the sciences. Stanisław Krajewski (‘Remarks on Mathematical Explanation’) and Krzysztof Wójtowicz (‘On the Problem of Explanation in Mathematics’) consider the role of explanation in mathematics; Michael Heller (‘Limits of Causal Explanations in Physics’) analyses the problem of causality against the backdrop of the contemporary research in cosmology; Andrzej Koleżyński (‘Pragmatism of Chemical Explanation’) highlights some intriguing aspects of explanation in chemistry; Dominique Lambert (‘When Science Meets Historicity’) considers the role of mathematics in biological explanations; and Mateusz Hohol and Michał Furman (‘On Explanation in Neuroscience: The Mechanistic Framework’) inquire into the limits of mechanical explanations in the neurosciences. The final four chapters of the volume attempt to analyse the nature of explanation in social sciences and the humanities: economics (Marcin Gorazda’s ‘The Epistemic and Cognitive Concept of Explantion in Economics’), ethics (Wojciech Załuski’s ‘The Varieties of Egoism. Some Reflections on Moral Explanation of Human Action’), religious studies (Wim Drees’s ‘Is Explaining Religion Explaining Religion Away?’), and theology (Olivier Riaudel’s ‘Explanation in Christian Theology: Some Points in Common with the Human Sciences’).
It is our hope that the essays collected in this volume will contribute to a better understanding of what explanation is and what are its limits.
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