You are on page 1of 16



In John Austins obituary in the Times, it is said that if his inuence has
turned out to be different from what he hoped it to be, that is just what he
hoped it would be. The responses that the lead paper of this number have
provoked and the other developments it has prompted are different from
what we initially hoped them to be, but they have in fact turned out to be
just what we could for collateral reasons have hoped for. Indeed, they have
led us to form in our minds interesting perspectives on the state of the art
of explanation or at least of the philosophical study of explanation.
In the simplest possible terms, this study used to be dominated by
a dichotomy of two types of approaches to explanation. They can be
characterized equally briey as follows:

Explanation by subsumption. According to this type of view, to

explain an explanandum is to show that it is a special case of a
wider generalization.


Causal theories of explanation. According to this type of

view, to explain e.g., an event is to show that it is a causal
consequence of its antecedents.

It is not claimed that this contrast is exhaustive. For instance, unicationist

approaches to explanation deserve a separate treatment.
This distinction is not without its usefulness. Unfortunately, it has been
badly muddled by philosophers. One reason for this muddle is that the
distinction (A)(B) has been assimilated to another distinction or pseudodistinction. This distinction is supposed to be a contrast between two
different views as to what the means of explanation are.

According to one alleged type of view, to explain something is

to nd an inferential or other logico-linguistic relation between
the propositions that are usually called the explanandum and
the explanans. This is supposed to instantiate what is called the
deductivist view of explanation.

Synthese (2005) 143: 207222

Springer 2005



According to the other type of idea, the gist of explanation lies

in discovering an actual relation of dependence between what
is expressed by the explanandum and the explanans.

The reason why an assimilation of the contrast (A)(B) to the contrast (a)(b) is misleading is that the latter distinction is fallacious, and
fallacious in a pernicious way. For naturally whatever dependence relations there are between what is expressed by the explanandum and by
the explanans must be expressed in language with the help of logical and
linguistic relations. In general, all that can be expressed in language about
reality is expressed through the properties and relations of its symbols. As
Wittgenstein once expressed this fact of a language speakers life,
. . . if one says How am I supposed to know what he means, all I can see are merely his
symbols, then I say: How is he supposed to know what he means, all that he has are
merely his symbols. (MS 108, p. 277)

If one internalizes this fact, one sees that the critics of so-called deductivism are ghting a bogeyman of their own imagination. Of course, saying
this does not mean that each and every logico-semantical relation expresses
an actual relation in the world which ones language can be used to speak
about. Moreover, those formal relations cannot be restricted to deductive
Indeed, one of the main jobs of the most important logical concepts,
the quantiers, is to express such actual dependencies. For how can you
express in a logical language the dependence relation between two variables? Obviously by the dependence of the quantiers on each other to
which they are bound. For instance, in a sentence of the form

(x)(y)F [x, y]

the value of y depends on the value of x. Moreover, this is the only way
in which dependencies between real-life variables can be expressed in an
applied logical language on the rst-order level. Indeed, the task of expressing dependence relations between variables is an important part of the
job description of quantiers. This aspect of the semantics of quantiers
for a long time did not receive appropriate attention. When it did, in what is
known as independence-friendly logic, it led to a substantial strengthening
of the expressive powers of the new rst-order quanticational languages
as compared with the received rst-order logical languages. These new
languages are known as independence-friendly (IF) languages. Their semantics is obtained from the well-known game-theoretical semantics for
the received rst-order languages merely by allowing moves prompted by



quantiers to be informationally independent of other similar moves on

which they would otherwise depend.
Yet the alleged distinction (a)(b) is still raising its ugly head in the
discussion about explanation. Even though we obviously failed to make
our thinking clear in the original lead paper, our basic outlook on explanation was and is that that it is essentially a matter of discovering a pattern
of dependencies of different factors in the explanatory situation. Our project was to nd what the logical structure of such dependence analysis is.
Yet our (admittedly half-baked) reliance on logical interpolation theorems
resulted in our approach being classied as an (a)-type or propositional
approach. Even though the misunderstanding may very well be our fault,
it is important to correct it.
Some thinkers in fact seem to assume that any account of explanation
which is formulated in terms of logical relations between the explanandum,
the explanans and whatever other propositions relevant to an account of
explanation there may be, must be a subsumption account, in other words
similar to Hempels covering law account. Such an assumption is incorrect,
however, as will be spelled out below.
In spirit, if not in letter, our line of thought was, and is, more in line
with (B)- type approaches than (A)-type ones. However, causal theories
of explanation seem to us to suffer of important weaknesses. The important matter in explanation is pattern of dependencies between different
factors in an explanatory situation. Now the traditional notion of cause is
hopelessly too narrow to capture all the different types of dependence and
independence between variables. The causal relation is antisymmetric, and
hence incapable of handling all logically possible patterns of dependence,
for instance mutual ones. (Such mutual dependencies are found in quantum
theory according to Hintikka, forthcoming.)
Moreover, what the precise logico-linguistic way is of expressing supposed causal relations is a complicated philosophical problem, whereas
the representation of dependence is one of the routine tasks of logical
constants, as was seen. Hence to rely on the notion of cause instead of more
general and more pliable notion of dependence is a questionable approach.
Even though we do not want to exhume Hume here, it is relevant to recall
that causal relations are not directly observable, in contrast to relations of
actual dependence which few philosophers seem to have any quarrel with.
(Even Hume relied on the idea of constant conjunction.) It even looks
more promising to try to analyze the ordinary discourse notion of cause on
the basis of a satisfactory theory of explanation than to analyze explanation
in terms of the received notion of cause. We are avoiding all appeals to
causal or nomic links beyond what can be expressed in terms of observ-



able dependencies. However, this does not mean that we do not consider
dependence relations as a part of the objective reality that explanations are
addressed to. If someone wants to follow the example of Alexander Bird
in his paper above and to call such actual dependence relations metaphysical, we do not want to object. However, we do not include in the notion
of dependence anything more than what can be expressed by the resources
of rst-order logic, rightly understood.
Both Hitchcock and Kernen and Salmon take us to defend in our target
paper an (A)-type approach, and therefore a (a)-type one. The fault for the
misunderstanding is undoubtedly ours, but the fact is that our aims were
almost diametrically opposed to what is ascribed by these authors to us.
With enemies like us, Hitchcock and Kernen and Salmon do not need
friends at least if they were willing to accept the help of logic-based
arguments. The real disagreement between us and them does not concern
the nature of explanation, but what we cannot help considering their bias
against what they call deductivism. We do not want to come down too
harshly against these three authors, however, for the same bias unfortunately is quite widespread among contemporary philosophers, including
analytic ones.
However, disagreements between our respective views must be registered. Kernen and Salmon write apropos our target paper that it seems
strange that an attempt to capture intuitions about explanations should
omit considerations of causality. We nd this statement to represent a
strange perspective on the philosophical problem of explanation. We do
not believe that any philosopher should base his or her arguments on the
gut feelings that are euphemistically called intuitions. In the target article
we were charting the logical and epistemological structure of the process
of explanation, not to imitate philosophers misinterpretation of Chomskys methodology (Hintikka 1999). We would nd it strange indeed to
approach explanation without considering dependence relations, but we
are suspicious of attempts to posit metaphysical causal powers to back up
such relations of dependence.
There are in any case many accounts of events which are referred to as
explanations in ordinary usage even though they are not obviously causal.
A rich lode of such explanations is constituted by accounts of peoples
behavior by reference to what they know or believe. Even though attempts
have been made to ascribe a causal role to beliefs, such explanations are
routinely accepted by people who do not believe that causality plays any
role in them.
This is enough to show that the emphases (a) and (b) are not mutually
exclusive. This exempts us among other things from making much weather



about the distinction between the explanandum and the explanans as propositions on the one hand and what they express on the other hand. But we
have not seen yet how the two frameworks can actually be reconciled, that
is, how a concrete dependence of the explanandum from its antecedents is
manifested in language. In this respect, the original paper left much to be
desired, which justies some of the criticisms levelled at it in the other essays appearing here. The general scheme assumed there was that to explain
why the explanandum D obtains is to deduce it from a background theory
T and certain ad explanandum conditions (not unlike initial conditions or
boundary conditions) A. Thus we have

(T & A)  D.

The explanans (the explanation) is then obtained by applying an interpolation theorem to


A  (T D).

In the original paper we used Craigs well-known interpolation theorem,

applying it to the simple test case where D is of the form P (b). The application presupposes that P does not occur in A nor b in T . (They can
thus be written A[b] and T [P ].) The interpolation formula H [b]does not
contain P , and it satises

A[b]  H [b],


H [b]  (T [P ] P (b)).

On the assumptions move, (5) implies


T [P ]  (x)(H [x] P (x)).

The suggestion was that in some sense H [b] is the explanation.

But does H [b] really show in down-to-earth terms why it is the case that
P (b)? What was given in the original paper as an answer to this question
was only a lame reference to how H [b] is constructed from a suitably
normalized proof of (3). It is excusable if this reference did not satisfy
everybody. After completing the target paper, the situation has changed
radically. We have been able to prove a new interpolation theorem which
will be called the explanatory interpolation theorem. It brings out much
than Craigs old theorem the relevant aspects of an explanatory situation.
This theorem uses a simplied method of Beths tableau method. Because of the completeness of the tableau method, we can consider all
consequence relations as being proved by this method. The rules of this
simplied version can be stated as follows:



(i) For each open branch on the left, form the conjunction of all the
formulas needed for bridges to the right side.
(ii) Form a disjunction of all the conjunctions (i).
(iii) From bottom up (i.e., in the order reverse to the rule application in
the proof of (F  G)) carry out step by step the following quantier
(a) Replace an individual constant introduced by existential instantiation on the left by a new variable x and prex the formula by (x)
(different x for different applications of (a) or (b)).
(b) Replace each individual constant introduced to the left side from
the right side by an application of universal instantiation on the
left side by a variable y and prex the formula by (y) (different
y for different application of (a) or (b)).
It is easily seen that the sentence IL obtained serves as an interpolation
formula, in other words, the following holds:

IL  G.

Now IL can be seen to contribute to the explanation of the conclusion

F  G in a striking way. The premise F describes a certain kind of structure or, rather, a number of alternative structures, and likewise for G. Then
each existential quantier in IL species an individual occurring in one of
these alternative structures which must exist and which serves to show that
a structure specied by F must be also a structure specied by G.
Likewise, each universal quantier occurring in IL species a general
truth about one of the structures specied by F which can be applied to
the individuals occurring in the structures specied by G so as to help to
show that the structures specied by F are also structures specied by G.
(Notice that these general truths about F may involve the individuals said
to exist by the existential quantiers of F .)
That IL can be said in a very striking sense to be an explanation (or a
part of an explanation) why G follows logically from F . More explicitly
expressed, IL tells what it is about the structures specied by F that makes
the models of F to be also models of G. We can also dene a mirror-image
(dual) interpolation formula IR which tells us which individuals exist in the
structures specied by G and which general laws hold in these structures
that guarantee that it G follows logically from F :
The explanatory interpolation theorem shows the actual real-life connection between the premise and the conclusion. The left-hand interpolation sentence spells out those features of a structure which satises F
that make it a structure which also satises G. Suppose that your task is



to bring it about that G. Knowing that G is logically implied by F does

not automatically help you to do so, even if you know that F is true. But
knowing the left-hand interpolation sentence IL provides a blueprint of
making sure that G. For IL shows what kind of structure you have to nd
or to construct in order to realize G, in that it lists the individuals that
have to exist and the general laws that bind them together which guarantee
this result. By replacing existential quantiers by Skolem functions we
can even think of these general laws as dependence relations between the
elements of the structure that satises F .
In a similar way you can see that IR describes a structure such that if it
exists, G is automatically true. And the fact that IR is a trivial consequence
of IL means in effect that the two structures are the same, except that
they are described from a different perspective, or else that the structure
specied by IR is in the same sense a part of the structure described by IL .
The interpolation sentences IL and IR thus spell out how the models
satisfying F also satisfy G. They show how the latter literally depend on
the former. And this how includes both the individuals that mediate the
dependence and the relations that tie them together. If spelling out this
dependence is not an explanation why G follows from F , it is hard to see
what could possibly be.
These observations thus show that a logical proof of G from F can
serve to produce a genuine explanation of the consequence relation. Of
course not every proof does so. It is a part of the mission of proof theory
to nd the normal forms of proofs which can serve such a purpose and
to which other proofs can be reduced. Kreisel was thus right when he
emphasized that proof theory is not only a study how logical truths and
logical consequence relations can be proved. It also serves to show how
other important information can be extracted from logical proofs.
The actual burden in explaining the explanandum is thus to nd the
ad explanandum data A[b] for which (2) holds. As a by-product of the
explanation we do obtain a kind of covering law, viz. (x)(H [x] P (x)).
There is thus a grain of truth in the subsumption idea. But in the actual
process of explanation this covering law plays no role. Explanation does
not consist in deducing the explanandum from the covering law.
In everyday explanations as well as in legal ones T [P ] need not be a
general scientic law. Rather, it is often all the background information
which we keep xed for the sake of explanation in order to study the role
of some one factor in the situation in which we happen to be especially
This becomes even clearer when it is recalled how the explanatory
interpolation theorem operates in our account. It is there applied to (3),



that is to say, with the ad explanandum premise playing the role of F .

This premise is what has to be discovered interrogatively in the actual
process of explanation. Now, as was seen, the explanatory interpolation
formula literally lists the different individuals that the inquirer has to nd
for the purpose, plus the dependencies between them and other individuals that sufce to imply the explanandum (jointly with the background
theory). The order of the quantiers which specify these individuals and
their interconnections even reproduces the order in which they make their
appearance in the interrogative inquiry involved in the explanation. This is
the sense in which the explanatory interpolation formula is a summary of
the actual process of explanation.
Even though we did not reach a satisfactory account in the target paper,
these new insights should satisfy amply Sintonens request of providing
an explanation why explanations are explanatory on our account. They are
also relevant to other papers. For instance, Christopher Hitchcock endorses
the view (which he attributes to J. Woodward) that what is characteristic
of explanations bring out the dependence of the explanandum on the initial
conditions or, as he expresses the idea, how the explanandum would have
been different had the initial conditions been different in different ways.
This comes close to the dependence idea, expect perhaps for the fact that
concomitant variation is only an indication of dependence, not its necessary condition. Hitchcock argues, undoubtedly correctly, that our initial
account did not do justice to this idea. What we failed to do was to bring
out sufciently clearly how this dependence is manifested. What we should
have emphasized is that the interpolation sentence not only summarizes the
deduction A  (T D), but shows how the fact that A makes it necessary.
The explanatoriness of an explanation does not come from the background
theory, but from the connection between A, T and D that the explanatory
interpolation theorem brings out.
It also follows that there can be genuine explanations in mathematics.
We do not indulge here in a closer study of such explanations, however.
An example may illustrate what has been said. Some writers of logic
textbooks try to impress students by showing that deductions can produce
surprising conclusions. They take the old line of a song Everybody loves
my baby, but my baby only loves me and show that as if by magic it
implies that I am my baby. What is there to be said by way of explaining
the curious consequence? Let us see. We can put b = my baby, m = me,
L(x, y) = x loves y, T = (x)L(x, b), A = (x)(L(x, b) (x = m)),
D = (b = m). Then, a simple deduction of A  (T D) might run as


(1) (x)(L(b, x) (x = m))

(2) (x)(L(b, x) (b = m))

(3) L(b, b) (b = m) from (1)

(7) L(b, b) from (3) (8) (b = m) from (3)
bridge to (6)
bridge to (5)

(4) (x) L(x, b) from (2)

(5) (b = m) from (2)
(6) L(b, b) from (4)


According to the explanatory interpolation theorem,

IL = IR = ( L(b, b) (b = m)) = (L(b, b) (b = m)).
This calls the bluff of the textbook writers. The surprising conclusion
is the result of a mistranslation. In ordinary usage, everybody loves
my baby does not imply that my baby loves my baby. (Ordinary language uses the exclusive interpretation of quantiers, not the inclusive in
Jaakko Hintikkas terminology.) The apparently surprising conclusion is
explained by this mistranslation. And this explanation is precisely what
the interpolation sentence provides.
Another example is offered by the well-known curious incident of
the dog in the night-time in Conan Doyle. There the ad explanandum
premises say (i) that there was a trained watchdog in the stable, in brief
(x)D(x), and (ii) that no dog barked at the thief, in short (x)(D(x)
B(x, t)). The general truths about the situation are (i) that the master
of all the dogs in stable was the stable master, in short (x)(y)((D(x) &
M(y, x)) s = y) and (ii) that the only person a watchdog does not bark
at is its master, in short (x)(y)((D(x) & B(x, y)) M(y, x)). The
conclusion is that the stable master was the thief or s = t. The tableau for
A  (T D) will look like this:
(1) (x)D(x)
(2) (x)(D(x) B(x, t)
(4) D() from (1)
(5) (D() B(, t) from (2)
(6) D()

(7) B(, t) from (5)

from (5)

(3) (x)(y)((D(x) & M(y, x)) s = y)

& (x)(y)((D(x) & B(x, y)) M(y, x)) s = t
(8) s = t from (3)
(9) (x)(y)(D(x) & M(y, x) & s  = y)
(x)(y)(D(x) & B(x, y) & M(y, x)) from (3)
(10) (x)(y)(D(x) & M(y, x) & s  = y)
from (9)
(11) (x)(y)(D(x) & B(x, y) & M(y, x))
from (9)
(12) D() & M(t, ) & s  = t from (10)
(13) D() & B(, t) & M(t, ) from (11)
(14) D() (15) M(t, )
(16) s  = t
from (12) from (12)
from (12)
(17) D() (18) B(, t) (19) M(t, )
from (13) from (13)
from (13)



According to the explanatory interpolation theorem, we have here

IL = (x)(D(x)& B(x, t)) = IR .
In other words, what in the observed circumstances explains why the stablemaster was the thief is the fact that there was a watchdog in the stable
who did not bark at the thief. This is of course precisely the explanation
Sherlock Holmes offered to the good inspector. And, indeed, given the
general truths T , there is no way for IL to be true unless the thief was the
The literature on explanation is full of examples of attempted explanations that fail, usually in the form of what are supposed to be
counter-examples to Hempels covering law account of explanation. It
seems to us a welcome change to have a couple of examples of successful
explanation to contemplate.
Another example illustrates the character of the implication IL  IR as
a trivial one. In it the relevant entailment is

(x)(y)L(x, y)  (y)(x)L(x, y).

We can take, e.g., L(x, y) = x loves y. The tableau might look like
(1) (x)(y)L(x, y)
(3) (y)L(, y) from (1)
(5) L(, ) from (3)

(2) (y)(x)L(x, y)
(4) (x)L(x, ) from (2)
(6) L(, ) from (4)

Here IL = (1), IR = (2). What this triviality reects is obvious. A situation

in which someone, say , loves everyone, is automatically one in which
anyone, say , is loved by someone, viz. .
What is there to be said on the basis of the explanatory interpolation
theorem about the problems of explanation in general and about the other
contributions to this number in particular? There is more to be said by way
of an answer than can be exhausted in this paper. A few salient points can
nevertheless be made.
The explanatory interpolation theorem applies more widely than
Craigs old theorem. Craigs interpolation theorem applied to the consequence relation F  G is vacuous if F and G share the same nonlogical
constants. In the relevant application this means (in terms of our example,
cf. (3)(6)) that both P and b occur in A. In contrast, no such restriction is
needed for the applicability of the explanatory interpolation theorem.
In contrast, no such restriction is needed for the applicability of the
explanatory interpolation theorem. Since it was seen to yield genuine explanations, Gerhard Schurz is entirely right in claiming (as against our



original paper) that perfectly good explanations are possible even when
Craigs interpolation theorem does not apply. What remains true is that if
b occurs in T , we obtain (5) but not (6). Then no covering law is implied by
T [P , b]. This shows in fact an important qualication to any version of the
covering law idea. In our original paper, it was maintained that a covering
law is available as a kind of by-product of any successful explanation.
This could have been a partial vindication of the covering law idea. Now
it turns out that even this partial vindication is too generous in that there
are perfectly good explanations which do not have a covering law as their
This amounts to a kind of refutation of the covering law idea. Hence our
account of explanation is not by any stretch of imagination a subsumption
(covering law) account. As a consequence, the real or alleged counterexamples to Hempels theory of explanation do not necessarily have any
applicability to our account.
What also remains true is that the relevant interpolation theorem does
not apply when F is logically false or G logically true. In the application
to (3) this means that A must not be self contradictory and (T D) must
not be logically true.
Moreover, if T is logically true, (3) reduces to A  D. This case
scarcely qualies as one of explanation, for an inquirer cannot in such a
situation ascertain the truth of the ad explanandum conditions A without
ipso facto ascertaining the truth of the explanandum D. The same obviously holds when T is some other kind of conceptual truth, for instance
arithmetical or geometrical. This is illustrated by the agpole example
of Brombergers. In it, the general truth involved is geometrical one.
Hence on our account it does not rate as an instance of explanation. As a
consequence, the agpole example not only does not constitute a counterexample to our account (contrary to what Hitchcock and Kernen and
Salmon think) but indirectly supports it.
The ad explanandum premise A is also indispensable in explanation
at least in the kind of explanation we are dealing with. Admittedly, there
are views like Putnams (reported by Sintonen) according to which explanation typically consists in deriving explananda from a general theory alone.
Such a view might rst seem totally unrealistic, for a completely general
theory typically does not entail any particular facts without the help of ad
explanandum premises, such as initial conditions or boundary conditions.
Speaking in general terms, an important aspect of explanation that is revealed by the explanatory interpolation theorem is that the explanatoriness
of explanations is a matter of the connection that there obtains between
the background theory, ad explanandum data and the explanandum itself.



It is not a matter, contrary what e.g., Hitchcock seems to think, concerning

primarily the nature of the background theory. In everyday explanations,
the role of the background theory can be played simply by those relevant
factors which do not depend on the factor (e.g., a certain person) whose
role in the genesis of the explanandum one is interested in.
There is a different (though not unrelated) question concerning the
rationale of explanations. It may be expressed in the form of Wesley Salmons onetime title question: Why ask why? In other words, what does an
inquirer gain cognitively by nding explanations for various phenomena?
We are inclined to consider answers in terms of systematization or unication dangerously vague. Is there a more clearly denable commodity
that is acquired through an explanatory process?
Now such elimination of merely apparent possibilities is the hallmark
of what has been called surface information (Hintikka 1970, 2003). Surface information is objective, and it can be of great practical value precisely
because it amounts to the elimination of prima facie possible but in (logical) reality impossible alternatives. Admittedly, not all such elimination
increases our surface information according to its technical denition. But
this is due merely to the fact that the denition of surface information that
is found in the literature is calculated to capture only such elimination
of spurious possibilities that goes beyond propositional logic and even
beyond monadic quantication theory. The notion of surface information
could in principle be redened so as to cover also the propositional and the
monadic case.
With this qualication in mind, it can be said that explanation in the
sense - considered here increases or forces us to increase our surface information. In view of the fact that surface information is our objective (and
often quite useful) commodity, this serves to explain why explanations are
indeed valuable, in other words, why one should ask why.
Indeed, looking at the relationship from the other end it can be said
that the practice of explanation offers probably the most vivid example
of the role of surface information in science and everyday life. We hope
that our analysis of explanation will enhance philosophers interest in the
important but badly neglected distinction between surface information and
depth information.
This brings out an important dimension in explanation. A deductive
interpolation sentence has normally the more surface information the more
layers of quantiers it contains, in other words, the more complex it is in
this respect. This put the entire philosophical discussion of explanation in
a quaint light. For among the examples of explanation actually analyzed
in the literature there are few probably none in which the explanatory



interpolation sentence is more complicated than the formulas of monadic

predicate logic. What this means is that the entire discussion has been
conducted by reference to examples which are so simple as not to be representative of what makes successful explanations interesting. This holds
in particular of the numerous counter-examples to Hempel. Even when
they tell against the letter of Hempels views, the attention paid to them in
the literature is excessive, for because their relative triviality they are not
likely to bring out what makes genuine explanations explanatory.
Even the examples we have used are by the same token fairly elementary, and not fully representative of the enhancement of surface information
that was seen to be the gist of the nontriviality of good explanations. Their
plausibility as explanations is due to the fact that in them certain prima
facie possibilities were successfully eliminated.
We cannot here offer a line-by-line commentary on all the different
papers. In all of them, there are interesting comments on our shared problems, and useful corrections to our target paper. This is especially true of
Gerhard Schurzs paper. Some remarks that hopefully have some general
interest can nevertheless be made. Sintonen argues that explanation is a
wider concept than we are assuming in that explanation of phenomena is
part of theory formation. In apparent contrast to this fact we apparently
assume that the background theory remains constant during the process
of explanation. A similar idea of a wider role of explanation in science
underlies other views of explanation, too, such as unicationist ones. We
are sure that Sintonen and others are right about the ordinary force of the
term explanation. However, the course we have taken seems to be by
far the best for the purpose of understanding the structure of the process
of explanation. For the purpose, it is not so important that the background
theory is xed, but that the desideratum (or the class of desiderata) remains
constant in the course of the process. Now in actual scientic thinking
theory formation cannot be reduced to nding an explanation for so far
known facts. The essential purposes of a new theory include ways of
discovering new previously unknown facts that the theory can explain,
thereby conrming it and perhaps separating it from other theories. And
by denition no rules can be given for explaining unknown data. It is for
this reason why scientic reasoning cannot be reduced to inferences to the
best explanation. Such a reduction would mean neglecting the dynamic
and progressive aspect of theory formation. Each datum, new or old, has
to be explained in the sense we have been dealing with: separately and
from some one given theory or theory version. Thus the core meaning of
explanation is bound to be explaining given data on the basis of a given
background theory.



The givenness of the theory need not be absolute.

Two aspects of Alexander Birds contribution call for clarications. He
speaks of contrastive explanations which are targeted on a certain feature
of the explanandum. There need not be anything wrong about using such
locutions. However, in a certain sense all explanation is contrastive, as we
tried to explain in the target article. For when explanation is analyzed in
epistemic terms, it inevitably involves a choice of queried and unqueried
ingredients of the explanandum.
Bird also distinguishes from each other subjective and objective explanations. Once again such a distinction is viable and sometimes even
illuminating. But it should not deect our interest away from the question
as to what objective factors (e.g., structural factors) typically make prima
facie subjective explanations subjectively explanatory.
We have nothing but praise to offer on the details of Diderik Batens
able paper. However, his overall approach differs from ours in ways that
deserve serious attention. At the bottom of the difference, there seems to
lurk something of the same alienation of deductive relations in philosophers thinking from what an analysis of those logical relations in effect tells
us about actual dependence relations in the world.
Batens is in any case absolutely right in calling attention to the cases
in which there are inconsistencies in the background theory T or in the
ad explanandum data A. We should have discussed this kind of case in
the target paper, for it is not only a possible one in realistic inquiry but a
frequently occurring one. However, we do not nd any need to resort to any
unusual logic here, for the kind of dependence analysis that is exemplied
by the explanatory interpolation theorem goes a long way toward handling even the contradictory cases. Take for instance Batens intentionally
oversimplied case in which
T = (x)(Q(x) P (x)) & (x)(R(x) & R(x))
A = Q(a)
Explanandum = D = P (a).
Here a simple tableau derivation of A  (T P (a)) might run as follows:
(1) Q(a)(2) (x)(Q(x) P (x)) & (x)(R(x) & R(x)) P (a)
(3) (x)( Q(x) & P (x)) (x)( R(x) R(x))
(4) P (a)
(5) (x)( Q(x) & P (x))
(6) ( Q(a) & P (a))
(7) Q(a)
(8) P (a)



This is precisely the kind of explanation Batens wants to capture. Here it is

obtained automatically, without any need of adjustments, complete with an
interpolation sentence. And the explanation works in the same way as in
the consistent case. It shows that there is in the ad explanandum data that
necessitates the implication from the background theory to the explanandum. The reason Batens cannot avail himself to this line of thought is that
in paraconsistent logic that he prefers to employ the conclusion does not
hold. But this is a self-inicted problem that we do not have to worry about.
A dependence analysis accounts for the puzzle more economically than a
switch in logic.
Such an analysis does not help us if the crucial consequence relation
A  (T D) holds only in virtue of the inconsistency. This is shown
in our normalized tableau method by the fact that all the paths (branches)
close on the one side of the tableau or the other (or both). In such circumstances the kind of quasi-explanation just mentioned is clearly useless.
But the realistic response on the part of an inquirer to such an eventuality
is not to adopt some fancy new logic but to realize that one of his or
her assumptions has to be rejected. In terms of the interrogative model,
this means suspending (bracketing) one of the answers (or one of the
initial premises). The choice of the answer to be bracketed can typically
be guided by a dependence analysis, but it remains a strategic decision for
which binding denitory rules cannot always be given.
Batens approach seems to be predicated on an awkward view of the
role of so- called rules of inference in logic. He appears to think that they
so to speak codify our strategies of passing from one sentence to another.
But this is simply not the whole story. The validity of rules of inference
depends on the semantical rules that relate our language to reality and
thereby determine the meaning of our sentences. Hence when someone
tells us that he or she will henceforth use paraconsistent logic or some
other nonclassical logic, in the most literal sense of the word he or she
is beginning to talk about something else. What is said may be ne and
dandy, but the nonclassical logician owes us a realistic translation to our
old idiom or some other explanation as to how his or her new discourse is
relevant to the old problems formulated in terms of classical logic. Logic
is not only a medium of inference. It is in the rst place a medium of
It may well be that Batens ingenious use of certain nonclassical logics
can be translated to the language of bracketing and unbracketing. However,
the correspondence is not obvious, and there are good reasons to think
that it will be rather complicated. The most important reason is that the
inference rules of logic are what has been called denitory rules. They do



not tell what a reasoner should do, but what he or she is allowed to do in
the game of logical inference. By so doing, they in a sense dene that
game. It is only the strategic rules that guide an inquirers actual decisions.
Strategic rules do not permit or mandate what an inquirer does. Following
one of them depends on the inquirers utilities, which are for him or her to
But it was just seen in effect that decisions to bracket an answer are
strategic in nature. Hence it is most unlikely that they can be captured by
any rules of inference, classical, nonclassical, paraconsistent or whatnot.


Halonen, Ilpo and Hintikka, Jaakko: 2003, Toward the Theory of the Process of Explanation, this volume.
Hintikka, Jaakko: 1970, Surface Information and Depth Information, in Jaakko Hintikka
and Patrick Suppes (eds), Information and Inference, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, pp. 263297.
Hintikka, Jaakko: 1999, The Emperors New Intuitions, Journal of Philosophy 96, 127
Hintikka, Jaakko: 2003, A Distinction Too Few or Too Many?, in Carol Gould (ed.),
Constructivism and Practice: Toward a Historical Epistemology, Roman & Littleeld,
Lanham, Maryland, pp. 4774.
Hintikka, Jaakko: forthcoming, On the Logical Foundations of Quantum Theory.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig: 2000, Wittgensteins Nachlass, The Bergen Electronic Edition,
Oxford University Press.
Department of Philosophy
Boston University
745 Commonwealth Avenue
MA 02215