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Explanation, Unification, & Content

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Explanation, Unification, & Content

Michael Friedman, in his paper "Explanation and Scientific Understanding”, claims that explanation proceeds by unifying diverse phenomena under a simple set of laws. On this view explanation is a form of reduction. Kitcher has shown that Friedman's formal account of this type of reduction is open to telling counter-examples. In the first part of this paper I show that by using the notion of content I have developed elsewhere Friedman's formal account can be rendered immune to Kitcher's counter-examples. It is then argued that, besides unification through reduction, there is another type of unification, namely unification through the making compatible of prima facie incompatible claims. Cases from Freudian theory, statistical mechanics, and quantum electrodynamics are used as examples. Again the notion of content is employed to give a formal account of unification as the reconciling of prima facie incompatible claims. Finally it is argued that, contra both Kitcher and Friedman, we should reject the notion that there is some essence common to all explanation. Rather we should recognize that there are different explanatory virtues and that different explanations partake of various virtues in varying degrees.Article

Gemes, Ken (1994) Explanation, Unification, & Content.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Citation: Nous (1994) 28: 225-240.
Subjects: Philosophy
Keywords: Explanation, Unification
Divisions: Institute of Philosophy
Collections: London Philosophy Papers
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