Carl Hempel: covering law model - to give a scientific explanation is to provide a satisfactory answer to an explanation-seeking why question.

  • According to Hempel scientific explanations typically have the logical structure of an argument; a set of premises followed by an conclusion.
  • The conclusion states that the phenomenon that needs explaining actually occurs, and the premises tell us why the conclusion is true (the relation between the two is most important!).
  • Hempel's covering law model consisted out of three laws: premises should entail the conclusion (deductive), the premises should all be true, the premises should consist at least one general law (e.g. all metals conduct electricity). So, in short: general law(s) + particular fact (or general law) (explanans} phenomenon to be explained (explanandum).
  • Every scientific explanation is potentially a prediction (and the other way around).
  • Some genuine scientific explanations don't fit in the model and some cases that don't count as genuine scientific do fit. Is the model too strict or too liberal?

Alternative for covering law model:

  • causality-based accounts - to explain a phenomenon is simply to say what caused it.
  • causality is an asymmetric relation, as well as explanation (so there don't occur wrong causes, like the flagpole example)

Empiricism: all our knowledge comes from experience, very suspicious of the concept of causality. - Hume, Hempel

Similar posts: