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The D-N Model and \"Things\"

The D-N Model and \"Things\"

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Published by Tyler Gould
Question 1 deals with Hempel\'s D-N model and also Kitcher\'s take on the subject.
Question 2 deals with the nature of theoretical and observational terms (including Hanson\'s main theory and argument).
Question 1 deals with Hempel\'s D-N model and also Kitcher\'s take on the subject.
Question 2 deals with the nature of theoretical and observational terms (including Hanson\'s main theory and argument).

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Published by: Tyler Gould on May 30, 2007
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Question 1Hempel’s D-N model outlines the way an explanation should be formulated and stipulates thecharacteristics it must have. In short, statement S is an explanation if S contains both anexplanans and explanandum. An explanation is, in essence, an argument, with laws andconditions making up the explanans and the explanandum being reached via the explanans. Theexplanans must meet three criteria and the explanandum must meet one criterion. If thesecriteria are met, says Hempel, the explanation is ‘good’.The first criterion of the explanans is that it must contain one general law. A general law is a trueuniversal generalization. It is not merely a generalization that is “accidentally true”. Anaccidentally true generalization such as “all the people that walk into this classroom are studentsor professors” does not offer any real explanation and, therefore, is not a law. The second parameter for the explanans is that it must contain empirical content. This idea is rather complex, but it generally means that the statements of the explanans are not simply true bynature of definition. Using the “S is a bachelor” argument as an explanation to the question“Why isn’t S married?” offers no explanation as to why he is not married, it simply classifieshim by a property that is built in to the definition of “bachelor.” While this generalization is notaccidental, it contains nothing that actually accounts for the fact that he is unmarried. The finalcriterion that the explanans must conform to is the property of trueness. The statements withinthe explanans must be true (i.e. “corresponding to how things actually are”). Hempel says thatan explanation is not correct unless it reaches a true conclusion through true statements.The Explanandum has only one criterion, and that is it must follow logically from the statements presented in the explanans. Essentially, the consequence must be validly deduced from thearguments. This argument, basically iff S then D where S is the explanans and D is theexplanandum.This set of criteria and the way that Hempel states that they must be formulated is rather  powerful and can validate quite a few explanations while invalidating many false ones.However, the D-N model is not flawless.The truth requirement, for one, is problematical simply because there are too many things thatcannot be known for certain. Countless theories (some of the bigger theories including historicalheat-energy theory and “the earth is the center of the solar system/universe”) have been widelythought to be true and have later been falsified. The problem, then, is in many cases there is noway to know if some statement, X, is actually true. The statement “hydrogen has one electron”could very well be false (and proved so) in a year or 100 years. This then retroactivelyinvalidates the explanation, whether or not it has been “useful” for the time it has been in use.A further problem with the D-N model is that there are many (infinite?) effects that are caused bythe same thing. In these cases, Hempel’s model can be adhered to while using one of the effectsto “explain” the other effect. This happens when there is some common factor between the twoeffects and the cause is hidden or unnoticed (recall the barometer example). The hidden cause
 
creates both effects so neither effect is explained by the other, even though an explanation can beformulated that way.Another complication with the D-N model is that there are some cases where the explanans andexplanandum (and the statements making up each) are in a way symmetrical so that the argumentcan actually be reversed (recall the flagpole example). The actual explanation is not symmetricin the way the argument is, however, thus creating an invalid explanation that fits Hempel’smodel.These flaws in Hempel’s model are quite severe, showing that in some cases the criteria are notstrict enough. From what I have read, it seems that many philosophers feel this could beremedied with the addition of some sort of causal criteria or concept, requiring that some sort of causal link be present in an explanation.Kitcher’s unificationist idea is a different way to render the D-N model more accurate. Kitcher says that things are explained by fitting them into generalizations or patterns, such as Hempel’sD-N model. Kitcher urges us to realize that not only do we do this with individual things butalso with our 
total set of explanations
. He says that the more things you can explain using thefewest general patterns, the better your total set of explanations is. This applies to explanation ina very similar way as Occam’s razor. Given two explanations of the same occurrence, the onethat relies on our existing set of explanations the most, or causes us to adopt the fewest newexplanations into our set (i.e. is the simplest), is the correct one. The basic idea is that reducingthe total explanations is a way to unify them (hence unificationist theory). Extrapolating theeffects of this theory, one could easily hold a very incorrect set of explanations for a period of time, but in the end (given enough time) the total set of explanations would be changed andaltered to fit truth (i.e. how things actually are). While this seems like a foolproof way to get tothe truth and correct explanation, it’s almost like trial and error in the sense that you may onlyreach the right explanations by using every possible wrong explanation. However, at this time(in my philosophy experience) unificationist theory is the only theory that I can see ever reaching pure truth and therefore wholly correct explanation.Question 2Observational terms and theoretical terms are quite distinct, just as their material (or potentiallymaterial) are (observational and theoretical
things
). Observational terms characterize that whichwe can observe (not just visually, but sight is a very important aspect), or experience. Terms thatdescribe shape, color, and other definable/measurable things are meant as observational terms.Theoretical terms are terms describing that which we cannot directly observe; for entities that areassumed to exist to explain the things we can observe. Observations (and therefore observationalterms) are key to justifying theories, comparing theories, and giving meaning to theoretical termsthrough bridge/correspondence laws. However, there are several problems with these definitionsand the distinction between the observational and the theoretical.The first stems from the definition of measurable/observable. Surely one would agree that usinga microscope does not taint the observability of an entity. But the same may not be so apparent

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