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The Facticity of Explanation and Its Consequences

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This paper argues that, contrary to the views of Nancy Cartwright and Brian Ellis, explanations are factive: if a statement is taken to be an explanation, it also has to be accepted as true. Taking explanations to be true, in turn, seems to imply that all the entities posited in explanations are real. But this is precisely what some philosophers, such as Cartwright and Ellis, want to deny. What these philosophers do not want to deny, however, is that such statements do explain. As a result, they see themselves forced to reject the facticity of explanation, a strategy that is unacceptable in my view. In order to avoid the further conclusion that all of the entities explanations posit exist, I propose to separate truth from ontology: explanations can be true, but the truth of these explanations alone does not commit us to the entities that these explanations posit. To determine where the ontological commitments of our statements lie, we must instead start with a criterion (a necessary and sufficient condition) for what exists. For instance, if all and only entities with causal powers are real, then this tells us that the only entities our true statements are committed to are entities with causal powers.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 July 2007

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