Explanation as Contextual

R. A. Young

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    There is a view that all explanation is contextual. An explanation answers questions that are relevant in a context and that are open to solution in that context. In another context, there might be no such questions, or they might not be open to solution. Van Fraassen has used a contextual account of explanation to argue in favour of what he calls 'constructive empiricism' and against what he calls 'scientific realism'. On his account, both empiricists and realists search for theories that are empirically adequate. These will explain the relevant observable phenomena, but differ on the unobservable phenomena, for example quantum states. For the realist, science aims to provide a literally true account of the unobservables. For the empiricist, science aims at no more than empirical adequacy. One argument in the realist armoury is the following. The best philosophical explanation of how the best scientific explanation does explain the observables requires that it is true about the unobservables. An empiricist response to this is that all explanation is contextual, so there is no globally best scientific explanation. The present paper explores the empiricist line by reference to formal learning theory and a logic of questions. Van Fraassen's contextual theory of explanation does not employ learning theory. The present paper is a step towards a more developed theory, differing form van Fraassen in some respects.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationModeling and Using Context
    Subtitle of host publicationThird International and Interdisciplinary Conference, CONTEXT 2001. Dundee, UK, July 27-30, 2001, Proceedings
    EditorsVarol Akman, Paolo Bouquet, Richmond Thomason, Roger A. Young
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Print)3540423796, 9783540423799
    Publication statusPublished - 2001
    EventThird International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Modeling and Using Context - Dundee, United Kingdom
    Duration: 27 Jul 200130 Jul 2001

    Publication series

    NameLecture notes in computer science
    ISSN (Print)0302-9743


    ConferenceThird International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Modeling and Using Context
    Abbreviated titleCONTEXT 2001
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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