IDC Seminar – What is an explanation?

February 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

Dr. Simon Attfield (Middlesex University)

simonExplanations are important for investigations. For one thing, the stories that we construct to ‘make sense’ of evidence stand as explanations for that evidence. But what is an explanation – exactly? We all feel we know how to give an explanation and know one when we hear it, but when asked to say what an explanation is, exactly, we may be hard pressed. In this talk I will explore some prominent philosophical theories of explanation, including Hempel’s deductive-nomological  or covering law model. I will then use Clarke’s theory of common ground to explore the idea that good explanations involve complementing an explainee’s existing knowledge in order to render the explanandum (the thing to be explained) more likely in their eyes.