Explanation and Explanationism in Science and Metaphysics


Juha Saatsi [1]

of explanationism are quick to point out). Studies of scientific explanation and explanatory inferences in history and philosophy of science offer a grasp on these issues that has a direct bearing on explanationism in naturalistic metaphysics that is “continuous” with scientific theorizing. The study of explanation and explanatory inferences in science reveals serious shortcomings in prevalent attempts to vindicate explanationism in metaphysics by reference to continuity between science and naturalistic metaphysics.

  • [1] Contemporary metaphysics is heavily concerned with its methodology and epis-temic status. This is for a good reason: in the virtual absence of experiments, predictions, and empirical feedback, it is far from clear how metaphysical theories andviews can be rationally justified. These “meta-level” issues are notoriously as impenetrable as they are important, alas. We can make the task more manageable by focusing on the role and status of explanatory considerations in metaphysics. Explanatoryarguments and inference to the best explanation play a central, perhaps foundational role in metaphysics. The “explanationist” methodology, although far frombeing universally adhered to, is widespread and commonly adopted in one form oranother. While the notion of metaphysical explanation remains murky and nebulous, and while some have expressed qualms about inference to the best explanationaltogether, explanationism has been bravely defended by others. I will argue thatthese vindications of explanationism in metaphysics turn out to be superficial andvexed, especially in their affiliation to explanationism in science. Even if we grant thelegitimacy to explanationism in science and everyday life, it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to defend explanationism in metaphysics. The advocates of inference to the best explanation—“the explanationists”—havemuch to learn from the study of explanation and explanatory inferences in science.Scientists, like metaphysicians, are also in the business of explaining the world, andexplanatory considerations arguably also guide scientific inferences (as the advocates
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