Four Decades of Scientific Explanation

Four Decades of Scientific Explanation

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Four Decades of Scientific Explanation
    Book Description:

    As Aristotle stated, scientific explanation is based on deductive argument--yet, Wesley C. Salmon points out, not all deductive arguments are qualified explanations. The validity of the explanation must itself be examined.Four Decades of Scientific Explanationprovides a comprehensive account of the developments in scientific explanation that transpired in the last four decades of the twentieth century. It continues to stand as the most comprehensive treatment of the writings on the subject during these years.

    Building on the historic 1948 essay by Carl G. Hempel and Paul Oppenheim, "Studies in the Logic of Explanation," which introduced the deductive-nomological (D-N) model on which most work on scientific explanation was based for the following four decades, Salmon goes beyond this model's inherent basis of describing empirical knowledge to tells us "not onlywhat,but alsowhy." Salmon examines the predominant models in chronological order and describes their development, refinement, and criticism or rejection.

    Four Decades of Scientific Explanationunderscores the need for a consensus of approach and ongoing evaluations of methodology in scientific explanation, with the goal of providing a better understanding of natural phenomena.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7302-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Paul Humphreys

    Wesley Salmon’sFour Decades of Scientific Explanationbecame an instant classic when it first appeared in 1989. The original book-length essay published the following year as a monograph, and it remains the best single source for understanding the often intense debates about the nature of scientific explanation that occurred during the period 1948 to 1987. This reprint of the book wisely avoids any attempt to update Salmon’s beautifully integrated survey and analysis. Yet the book’s concluding chapter does contain some tantalizing predictions about how Salmon thought the field of explanation would develop in the fifth decade, and with a further...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
    W. C. S.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    The search for scientific knowledge extends far back into antiquity. At some point in that quest, at least by the time of Aristotle, philosophers recognized that a fundamental distinction should be drawn between two kinds of scientific knowledge—roughly, knowledgethatand knowledgewhy. It is one thing to knowthateach planet periodically reverses the direction of its motion with respect to the background of fixed stars; it is quite a different matter to knowwhy. Knowledge of the former type is descriptive; knowledge of the latter type is explanatory. It is explanatory knowledge that provides scientific understanding of...

  6. The First Decade (1948–57): Peace in the Valley (but Some Trouble in the Foothills)
    (pp. 11-32)

    With hindsight we can appreciate the epoch-making significance of the 1948 Hempel-Oppenheim paper; as we analyze it in detail we shall see the basis of its fertility. Nevertheless, during the first decade after its appearance it had rather little influence on philosophical discussions of explanation. To the best of my knowledge only one major critical article appeared, and it came at the very end of the decade (Scheffler 1957); it was more a harbinger of the second decade than a representative of the first. Indeed, during this period not a great deal was published on the nature of scientific explanation...

  7. The Second Decade (1958–67): Manifest Destiny—Expansion and Conflict
    (pp. 33-60)

    As we have already remarked, the first decade after the publication of the Hempel-Oppenheim paper saw little published criticism—or acknowledgment—of it. Quite possibly this portion of the received view—the box in the upper left corner of Table 1—was accepted with considerable satisfaction for the most part by the philosophy of science community. The situation changed rather dramatically around 1958. This was the year in which the second volume ofMinnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science(Feigl et al. 1958) was published, containing Scriven’s first article attacking the D-N model. Hanson’sPatterns of Discovery(1958) appeared...

  8. The Third Decade (1968–77): Deepening Differences
    (pp. 61-116)

    The third decade is bracketed by Hempel’s last two publications on scientific explanation. It opened with his emendation of the requirement of maximal specificity (RMS*), which was designed to fix a couple of technical flaws in his account of I-S explanation (1968).¹ It ended with the publication (in German) of a substantial postscript to section 3 of “Aspects” which is devoted to statistical explanation (1977). Among other things, he retracted the high-probability requirement on I-S explanations.

    Insofar as published material was concerned, the issue of high probability vs. statistical relevance remained quite dormant for about five years after I had...

  9. The Fourth Decade (1978–87): A Time of Maturation
    (pp. 117-179)

    The history of the last decade is the hardest to recount, especially for one who has been deeply involved in the discussions and controversies. It is difficult to achieve perspective at such close range. Nevertheless, I think certain features are discernible. It is a period during which several different lines of thought achieved relatively high degrees of maturity. For example: (1) The role of causality in scientific explanation has been pursued in far greater detail than previously. (2) Views on the nature of statistical explanation and its relationship to causal explanation have become much more sophisticated. (3) Our understanding of...

  10. Conclusion: Peaceful Coexistence?
    (pp. 180-186)

    We have arrived, finally, at the conclusion of the saga of four decades. It has been more the story of a personal odyssey than an unbiased history. Inasmuch as I was a graduate student in philosophy in 1948, my career as a philosopher spans the entire period. I do not recall when I first read the Hempel-Oppenheim essay, but I did discuss it in my classes in the early 1950s. My specific research on scientific explanation began in 1963, and I have been an active participant in the discussions and debates during the past quarter-century. Full objectivity can hardly be...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 187-195)
  12. Chronological Bibliography
    (pp. 196-219)
  13. Index
    (pp. 220-234)