Yesterday, I began a series of posts aimed at demonstrating how science and religion converge to explain reality. I began by exploring the nature of explanations. Today, I will continue that exploration and then lay out the benefits of my account.
A distinction can be made between meta-explanations and minor-explanations (I take my cue for this distinction from Del Ratzsch’s discussion of maxi-theories and mini-theories in Science & Its Limits, pp. 63-72). Meta-explanations refer to explanations that provide broad conceptual frameworks. Minor-explanations refer to more detailed or specific explanations within a meta-explanation.
Minor-explanations are small in scope and may merely deal with explanandum within a sub-field of a particular discipline. Minor-explanations are more fluid and subject to lower levels of justification both for and against. Taken alone, their explanatory relevance may be minimal as they fail to address explicitly or adequately the most important questions within a discipline.
Meta-explanations are those which are wide in scope and may encompass a host of more narrow explanations. The justificatory requirements for meta-explanations are higher, requiring greater amounts of data and evidence than a minor-explanation. However, they also require stronger defeaters and counter evidence to overturn them. This conceptual scheme helps one see how a number of minor-explanations can be brought under the umbrella of a single meta-explanation to provide explanatory coherence and a deeper, more comprehensive explanation.
I see two benefits to my account of explanations. First, my account has the advantage of disciplinary neutrality or cross-disciplinary applicability. Whether one’s area of study is science, philosophy, history, psychology or even auto-mechanics, explanations are sought. My second-order philosophical account of explanation undergirds all first-order claims in other disciplines. For instance, the auto mechanic will have meta-explanations consisting of minor-explanations, all the while invoking causality, which account for the proper operation of automatic transmissions in cars. In the same manner, a psychologist may employ a Jungian meta-explanation to account for human action.
A second benefit of my account of explanation is its openness to logical contingency as well as to the logical necessity empiricists want to jettison. Again, my second-order philosophical account of explanation does not limit first-order logical claims in other disciplines.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the nature of scientific explanation.