The Metaphysics of Explanation: An Inquiry into the Nature and Philosophical Limits of Explanation by Campbell Whitaker (Studies in the History of Philosophy V. 74: Edwin Mellen Press) A teacher of philosophy, logic, and mathematics at an undisclosed institution, Whitaker sets out to demonstrate logical and ontological limits of explanation. He begins by distinguishing between two apparently similar questions: Why does the Universe exist? and Why does the World exist? The first is unrestricted, he says, because the Universe is defined to include everything; the second is restricted because some things--for example God--may be beyond it. He argues that explanation necessarily involves something beyond what is explained. Therefore, it is not possible to explain the Universe, but it might be possible to explain the World.
Does the Universe exist? Is there a reason why it exists? What would it mean to explain the existence of the Universe? Did the World begin to exist? Did it explode into existence? Was it created? Has it always existed? Is the World finite or infinite in space? Do space and time exist? Is there something beyond space and time? Do spiritual beings exist? Are some questions unanswerable? Are`there limits to what can be explained? What does it mean to explain something? How does explanation provide understanding? Does everything have an explanation? These are some of the questions that a serious and sustained inquiry into the nature and philosophical limits of explanation must encounter. Such an inquiry is the aim of the present book.
A main goal of the book is to demonstrate logical and ontological limits of explanation. Two fundamental questions in this regard are: 1) Why does the Universe exist? (the unrestricted question of existence), and 2) Why does the World exist? (the restricted question of the World). Question 1 is unrestricted because the Universe is defined to include absolutely everything. Question 2 is restricted because the World need not include everything (for instance, it may be thought not to encompass God). Chapters 1-3 deal with the first question in relation to the logic of explanation. Chapters 4-6 deal with the second question in relation to certain ontological presuppositions in explanation.
If, as argued in the text, explanation necessarily involves something beyond what is explained, the existence of the Universe cannot be explained. A point of special interest, however, is not just the impossibility of explanation, but the underlying incoherence of the question itself. To establish this point, a theory of explanation and a theory of existence are needed. The principal thesis in the theory of explanation advanced is that the logic of why-explanation is deductive subsumption under a generalization. This furnishes the sense in which explanation must go beyond what is explained. The claim also raises controversial issues about the role of induction in explanation and, generally, about the subsumption analysis of explanation. A detailed analysis of why-explanation is given in chapter 1 to address these issues. Questions about the logical form of reasoning, the foundation of induction, the role of probability in explanation, the relation between explanation and understanding, and the explanation of human action are questions that naturally arise in the course of this analysis. A conclusion of the chapter is that an answer to the unrestricted question of existence is inconsistent with the logic of why-explanation as deductive subsumption under a generalization. When coupled with the claim that every meaningful question is in principle answerable, it follows that the question of existence lacks meaning. Notably, the grounds of this conclusion, which are argued in detail, are distinct from any positivistic principle of meaning.
Concepts of total explanation are analyzed in chapters 2 and 3. A total explanation is an explanation that explains everything. Most theories of total explanation are based on the idea that God (or the Universe) is a necessary being (or entity) that has the sufficient reason for its existence in itself. Ideas of necessary being and sufficient reason and their role in Cosmological and Ontological arguments for the existence of God are central interests in total explanation. A complete analysis of these ideas finally depends, however, on a theory of existence, which is given with close reference to the notion of designation. Alternative accounts of total explanation based on theories of extreme axiarchism and explanatory self-subsumption are considered in chapter 3. Though these theories involve unique and interesting issues, they cannot resolve the difficulties in total explanation. To complete the treatment of the unrestricted question of existence, concepts of the Universe and Absolute Nothing are analyzed at the close of chapter 3.
Chapters 4-6 primarily concern the restricted question of the World. Unlike the Universe, the idea of the World does not immediately rule out the possibility of something apart from the World. The possibility of explaining the World depends, therefore, on whether there can be something apart from the World that is the cause or reason for its existence. Concepts of creation, theories of divine creation, and possible connections between divine creation and scientific cosmology are relevant to whether the World's existence can be explained. These issues are investigated in chapter 4. The hypothesis that the World is finite in space and time is the topic of chapter 5. In addition to arguments that the World is spatiotemporally finite, special claims that time itself had a beginning, and that the World is finite yet unbounded are considered. Concepts of body, motion, void, place, space, and time are seen to require careful scrutiny in considering these matters. Chapter 6 concerns the hypothesis that the World is infinite in time or space. When taken together, the arguments of Chapters 5 and 6 prove that the World cannot be finite or infinite in space or time. The significance of this apparent contradiction is shown to indicate that we have no concept of the World as a whole, that it makes no sense to say the World exists or does not exist, and that the World is conceptually and ontologically prior to what exists. These conclusions preclude the possibility of explaining the existence of the World.
An aim of this inquiry is to indicate certain logical and ontological limits of explanation. The conception of why-explanation as deductive subsumption under a generalization establishes logical limits of explanation. The fact that our explanations (in matters of existential import) cannot exceed the conditions of space and time establishes ontological limits of explanation. Though the following inquiry into the nature and philosophical limits of explanation was inspired by the question why anything at all exists, a main conclusion of the inquiry is that this question is meaningless. Indeed, the reader may be struck by the number of theses that are argued to be meaningless, incoherent, impossible, absurd, senseless, or by some designation conceptually defective. Since philosophical issues are usually conceptual in nature, error in philosophy is usually a problem of incoherence rather than empirical falsehood. Since words wingless" and "incoherent" often carry derogatory meanings however, the reader is informed that these words are not used or intended in this way in the following work. Although I argue that the question of existence is meaningless, it is a question that has stimulated my own intellectual development. In truth, I have nothing but respect for the question and for the wonder that inspires it in the mind of an inquisitive soul. Philosophical insight does not reside in the assertion or denial of coherence, but only in understanding the reason why. This is the interest of the following inquiry.
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