Explanatory anti-psychologism overturned by lay and scientific case classifications

Synthese 191 (5):1-23 (2014)


Many philosophers of science follow Hempel in embracing both substantive and methodological anti-psychologism regarding the study of explanation. The former thesis denies that explanations are constituted by psychological events, and the latter denies that psychological research can contribute much to the philosophical investigation of the nature of explanation. Substantive anti-psychologism is commonly defended by citing cases, such as hyper-complex descriptions or vast computer simulations, which are reputedly generally agreed to constitute explanations but which defy human comprehension and, as a result, fail to engender any relevant psychological events. It is commonly held that the truth of the substantive thesis would lend support to the methodological thesis. However, the standard argument for the substantive thesis presumes that philosophers’ own judgments about the aforementioned cases issues from mastery of the lay or scientific norms regarding the use of ‘explanation.’ Here we challenge this presumption with a series of experiments indicating that both lay and scientific populations require of explanations that they actually render their targets intelligible. This research not only undermines a standard line of argument for substantive anti-psychologism, it demonstrates the utility of psychological research methods for answering meta-questions about the norms regarding the use of ‘explanation.’.

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Author Profiles

Jon Waskan
Washington University in St. Louis (PhD)
Zachary Horne
University of Edinburgh

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