Dimensions of explanation

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Eric Hochstein


Some argue that the term “explanation” in science is ambiguous, referring to at least three distinct concepts: a communicative concept, a representational concept, and an ontic concept. Each is defined in a different way with its own sets of norms and goals, and each of which can apply in contexts where the others do not. In this paper, I argue that such a view is false. Instead, I propose that a scientific explanation is a complex entity that can always be analyzed along a communicative dimension, a representational dimension, and an ontic dimension. But all three are always present within scientific explanations. I highlight what such an account looks like, and the potential problems it faces (namely that a single explanation can appear to have incompatible sets of norms and goals that govern it). I propose a solution to this problem and demonstrate how this account can help to dissolve current disputes in philosophy of science regarding debates between epistemic and ontic accounts of mechanistic explanations in the life sciences.

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How to Cite
Hochstein, E. (2024). Dimensions of explanation. Philosophical Problems in Science (Zagadnienia Filozoficzne W Nauce), (74), 57–98. https://doi.org/10.59203/zfn.74.607


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