explanation

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explanation

Any account in which an occurrence or general phenomenon is made intelligible by identification of its CAUSE, nature, interrelations, etc. In more formal terms, the occurrence or phenomenon explained is the explanandum, the explanatory account, the explanans, which, in physical science, will usually involve SCIENTIFIC LAWS, EXPLANATORY THEORIES, etc, but in the social sciences may also involve actors’ meanings, REASONS, and so on. Thus in sociology, explanation may take any one of a number of forms (which are not necessarily always mutually exclusive):
  1. causal explanation, which may embrace various types of explanation, but in its most basic form involves the identification of an immediate precipitating cause or causes of a particular occurrence, e.g. the cause of a fire identified as the dropping of a cigarette. In their more limited forms, causal explanations usually involve numerous unstated background assumptions about physical laws, etc. (see also CAUSALITY AND CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP);
  2. deductive explanation, in which an explanandum is deduced, i.e. follows logically from established generalizations of general laws (see HYPOTHETIC-DEDUCTIVE EXPLANATION, VERSTEHEN, INTERPRETATIVE SOCIOLOGY, COVERING-LAW MODEL AND DEDUCTIVE NOMOLOGICAL EXPLANATION, FORMAL THEORY;
  3. probablistic explanation, in which a specifiable probability (a chance of less than 100% and more than 0%, i.e. in probability theory a chance less than 1 and greater than 0) is taken as explaining the occurrence of an event, e.g. the appearance of breast cancer in a woman whose mother and sisters have already had the disease. Strictly speaking, rather than explaining a single event, probability explanations relate to the likelihood of a particular distribution of occurrences in an infinite series of events. On their own they are usually seen as unsatisfactory as explanations, at least until further background factors explaining the probabilities are also identified, e.g. in the case of breast cancer, the discovery of genetic predispositions, etc.)
  4. ‘meaningful’ and ‘purposive’ explanations, in which actors’ meanings and/or desires, reasons, intentions, purposes, etc, explain an event or a social situation (see MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING AND MEANINGFUL EXPLANATION, PURPOSIVE EXPLANATION);
  5. functional(ist) explanations, in which the ‘functional requirements’ of systems explain outcomes (see FUNCTIONAL(IST) EXPLANATION);
  6. evolutionary or ecological explanations, which explain the persistence of natural species, types of social system, etc, in terms of their selection by and adaptation to an external environment (see EVOLUTIONARY THEORY);
  7. teleological explanations (see also TELEOLOGY), in which purposes, goals, or system end-states, rather than antecedent causes, are seen as decisive. Such explanations may be made with reference to human or animal purposes, to the needs and goals of human societies, or to the more arcane operation of processes such as ‘world spirit’ (as for HEGEL) or human destiny. Functional explanation in many of its sociological forms also involves teleological explanation, although, in this case, recourse to such explanation is not always regarded as incompatible in principle with a reduction to antecedent causes.
References in classic literature ?
There were his Packingtown experiences, for instance--what was there about Packingtown that Ostrinski could not explain! To Jurgis the packers had been equivalent to fate; Ostrinski showed him that they were the Beef Trust.
Let me explain, if I may, why I have paid you this rather untimely call."
"Why attempt to explain the inexplicable?" he replied.
"You must simulate death," he explained, "while I carry you from the camp.
This view would remove many difficulties, but it would not, I think, explain all the facts in regard to insular productions.
Had Filby shown the model and explained the matter in the Time Traveller's words, we should have shown HIM far less scepticism.
These drawing-room astronomers professed to explain the charred aspect of the moon-- a disaster which they attributed to the intensity of the solar heat; only, on being reminded that comets have an atmosphere, and that the moon has little or none, they were fairly at a loss for a reply.
He explained his absence by saying that he had a headache and went out into the fresh air, but had gone no further than the oak grove.
Oom Sam spread out the document which Trent had handed him upon a tree-stump, and explained. His Majesty nodded more affably.
Those things are called relative, which, being either said to be of something else or related to something else, are explained by reference to that other thing.
Have I not explained everything to you with respect to myself which could bear a doubtful meaning, and which the ill-nature of the world had interpreted to my discredit?
"I met him on the train," explained the author of the book on the lost city of Pelone, as well as books on other antiquities.