Reconciling Contrastive and Non-contrastive Explanation

Erkenntnis 83 (6):1213-1227 (2018)
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Abstract

Two apparently mutually exclusive ideas about the relation between contrastive and non-contrastive explanations can be found in the literature. According to contrastivists, all explanation is contrastive explanation and the supposed existence of non-contrastive explanations can be revealed to be an illusion. According to non-contrastivists, on the other hand, contrastive explanation can be fully analysed in terms of non-contrastive explanation, and is thus not of fundamental importance. In the current article, I discuss the main arguments in favour of and against each of the two positions. This discussion leads to the idea that contrastive explanations are to be understood as parts of a bigger, more complete non-contrastive explanation; but that all actual explanations explain only a limited set of contrasts. I conclude that, once the relation between contrastive and non-contrastive explanations is understood correctly, there remains no substantial issue to divide contrastivism and non-contrastivism.

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Victor Gijsbers
Leiden University

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 1991 - London and New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
Précis of Inference to the Best Explanation, 2 nd Edition.Peter Lipton - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (2):421-423.

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