Selection and Explanation

in Johannes Persson (ed.) Rethinking Explanation


Selection explanations explain some non-accidental generalizations in virtue of a selection process. Such explanations are not particularizable-they do not transfer as explanations of the instances of such generalizations. This is unlike many explanations in the physical sciences, where the explanation of the general fact also provides an explanation of its instances (i.e. standard D-N explanations). Are selection explanations (e.g. in biology) therefore a different kind of explanation? I argue that to understand this issue, we need to see that a standard D-N explanation of some non-accidental generalization (all Fs are Gs) may also ipso facto explain its contrapositive (all non-Gs are non-Fs), but the explanation is particularizable with respect to the former but not to the latter. This can be seen by noting that the Raven Paradox counterexample to the H-D model of confirmation also generates a counterexample to the D-N model of explanation (all ravens are black does not explain why the non-black shoe is a non-raven). In such cases it is natural to take the generalization with the positive predicates to have a particularizable explanation. However, this need not be the case, and in selection explanations it is the generalization with the positive predicates whose explanation is not particularizable. Thus there is no need to suppose that selection explanations are fundamentally different.