4. THREE DOGMAS (MORE OR LESS) OF EXPLANATION1

Authors


  • 1

    I would like to thank Mark Risjord and my three co-symposiasts—David Carr, Tor Egil Førland, and Karsten Stueber—for their many helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. These thanks should not be construed as implying their agreement with or responsibility for the views expressed here.

ABSTRACT

What ought to count as an explanation? Such normative questions—what “ought to be” the case?—typically mark the domain that those with a type of philosophical aspiration call their own. Debates in the philosophy of history have for too long been marred by bad advice from just such aspirants. The recurrent suggestion has been that historians have a particular need for a theory of explanation since they seem to have none of their own. But neither the study of the natural sciences nor the study of narrative compels or even makes plausible the view that it will be possible to adduce the norms of explanation, either in history or elsewhere, in advance of identifying theories that explain. I readily concede to Stueber, Carr, and Førland the use of a certain vocabulary when speaking of others. But it is one thing to point to a pervasive habit of explaining behavior in certain terms. It is quite another to document that these explanations have any value as explanations.

What apart from habit or philosophical dogma establishes any of their proposals as explanatory? Explanation by invoking the myth of the shared should be replaced by explanations that have empirical content.

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