An explanation is a set of
statements Statement or statements may refer to: Common uses *Statement (computer science), the smallest standalone element of an imperative programming language *Statement (logic), declarative sentence that is either true or false *Statement, a declarative ...
usually constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequences of those facts. It may establish
rule Rule or ruling may refer to: Education * Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE), a university in Cambodia Human activity * The exercise of political or personal control by someone with authority or power * Business rule, a rule per ...
s or laws, and may clarify the existing rules or laws in relation to any objects or phenomena examined. Explanation, in philosophy, is a set of statements that makes intelligible the existence or occurrence of an object, event, or state of affairs. Among its most common forms are: * Causal explanation * Deductive-nomological explanation, which involves subsuming the explanandum under a generalization from which it may be derived in a deductive argument (e.g., “All gases expand when heated; this gas was heated; therefore, this gas expanded”) * Statistical explanation, which involves subsuming the explanandum under a generalization that gives it inductive support (e.g., “Most people who use tobacco contract cancer; this person used tobacco; therefore, this person contracted cancer”). Explanations of human behaviour typically appeal to the subject’s beliefs and desires, as well as other facts about him, and proceed on the assumption that the behaviour in question is rational (at least to a minimum degree). Thus an explanation of why the subject removed his coat might cite the fact that the subject felt hot, that the subject desired to feel cooler, and that the subject believed that he would feel cooler if he took off his coat.

Scientific explanation

A presupposition of most recent discussion has been that science sometimes provides explanations (rather than “mere description”) and that the task of a “theory” or “model” of scientific explanation is to characterize the structure of such explanations. It is thus assumed that there is a single kind or form of explanation that is “scientific”. In fact, the notion of “scientific explanation” suggests a contrast between those “explanations” that are characteristic of “science” and those explanations that are not, and, second, a contrast between “explanation” and something else. However, the tendency in much of the recent philosophical literature has been to assume that there is a substantial continuity between the sorts of explanations found in science and at least some forms of explanation found in more ordinary non-scientific contexts, with the latter embodying in a more or less inchoate way features that are present in a more detailed, precise, rigorous etc. form in the former. It is further assumed that it is the task of a theory of explanation to capture what is common to both scientific and at least some more ordinary forms of explanation. A notable theory of scientific explanation in Hempel's Deductive-nomological model. This model has been widely criticized but it is still the starting point for discussion of most theories of explanation.

Explanations vs. arguments

The difference between explanations and arguments reflects a difference in the kind of question that arises. In the case of arguments, we start from a doubted fact, which we try to support by arguments. In the case of explanations, we start with an accepted fact, the question being why is this fact or what caused it. The answer here is the explanation. For instance, if Fred and Joe address the issue of whether or not Fred's cat has fleas, Joe may state: "Fred, your cat has fleas. Observe the cat is scratching right now." Joe has made an argument that the cat has fleas. However, if Fred and Joe agree on the fact that the cat has fleas, they may further question why this is so and put forth an explanation: "The reason the cat has fleas is that the weather has been damp." The difference is that the attempt is not to settle whether or not some claim is true, but to show why it is true. In this sense, arguments aim to contribute knowledge, whereas explanations aim to contribute understanding. While arguments attempt to show that something is, will be, or should be the case, explanations try to show ''why'' or ''how'' something is or will be. If Fred and Joe address the issue of ''whether'' or not Fred's cat has fleas, Joe may state: "Fred, your cat has fleas. Observe the cat is scratching right now." Joe has made an ''argument that'' the cat has fleas. However, if Fred and Joe agree on the fact that the cat has fleas, they may further question ''why'' this is so and put forth an ''explanation'': "The reason the cat has fleas is that the weather has been damp." The difference is that the attempt is not to settle whether or not some claim is true, but to show ''why'' it is true. Arguments and explanations largely resemble each other in
rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate par ...
al use. This is the cause of much difficulty in thinking critically about claims. There are several reasons for this difficulty. * People often are not themselves clear on whether they are arguing for or explaining something. * The same types of words and phrases are used in presenting explanations and arguments. * The terms 'explain' or 'explanation,' et cetera are frequently used in arguments. * Explanations are often used within arguments and presented so as to serve ''as arguments''.

Explanation vs. justification

The term explanation is sometimes used in the context of justification, e.g., the explanation as to why a
belief A belief is an attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition is true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer to attitudes about the world which can be either true or false. To believe something is to tak ...
is true. Justification may be understood as the explanation as to why a belief is a true one or an account of how one knows what one knows. It is important to be aware when an explanation is not a justification. One may give a detailed and believable account on something without giving a single proof.


There are many and varied events, objects, and facts which require explanation. So too, there are many different things that can be used to explain something.
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
recognized four archetypes of explanation. These were thought, since even more ancient times, to be universal and unique 'kinds' of explanation that comprise all ways of explaining something. However, there is much confusion about their precise definition and how they relate to each other. Types of explanation involve appropriate types of reasoning, such as Deductive-nomological, Functional, Historical, Psychological, Reductive, Teleological, Methodological explanations.

Theories of explanation

* Deductive-nomological model * Statistical relevance model * Causal Mechanical model *Unificationist model *Pragmatic theory of explanation

See also

Abductive reasoning Abductive reasoning (also called abduction,For example: abductive inference, or retroduction) is a form of logical inference formulated and advanced by American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce beginning in the last third of the 19th centu ...
Epistemology Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Episte ...
* Explanandum and explanans * Explanatory gap * Inductive reasoning *
Inquiry An inquiry (also spelled as enquiry in British English) is any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem. A theory of inquiry is an account of the various types of inquiry and a treatment of th ...
Knowledge Knowledge can be defined as Descriptive knowledge, awareness of facts or as Procedural knowledge, practical skills, and may also refer to Knowledge by acquaintance, familiarity with objects or situations. Knowledge of facts, also called pro ...
* Models of scientific inquiry * Rationalization *
Scientific method The scientific method is an empirical method for acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century (with notable practitioners in previous centuries; see the article history of scientific me ...
Theory A theory is a rational type of abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with such processes as observational study or research. Theories may be ...
* Unexplained (disambiguation) * Wesley Salmon

Further reading

* Moore, Brooke Noel and Parker, Richard. (2012) ''Critical Thinking''. 10th ed. Published by McGraw-Hill. .


External links

* * *
in several languages and meanings {{Authority control Critical thinking Concepts in logic Epistemology of science Theories Causality