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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Bohm presented the hologram and ink in fluid stirring device analogies to provide perceptual insights into the meanings of wholeness, implicate and explicate order of his model.
The chapters in this section explicate the multifaceted relationship of community journalism with public relations and advertising, broadcasting, the internet and magazine publishing.
First, he noted that the student had indeed used some reasoning that she could build on and he thus wanted to help explicate the features of her strategy that could help support her (and her likeminded classmates') growth in understanding.
He now builds on this work in a collection of original essays that further explicate religious themes in the American founding.
It is not evident, for example, whether most girls began to wear adult corsets in their teens or earlier because Summers relies upon anecdotes that illustrate the horrors of children's corsetry, but do not explicate the wider contours of its use.
After indicating certain resonances of secrecy in Spinoza and Kant, I will turn to Derrida in order to explicate some aspects of his most sustained reflection on religion, The Gift of Death, before returning to Caputo at the conclusion.
In observance of Women's History Month, Santa Monica College art historian Maria Elena Buszek will explicate her decidedly feminist perspective on the famous 1940s Vargas girl pin-ups.
His approach has been to explicate the works themselves, to avoid overt critique and to disregard, in the main, other commentators or critics of Baudrillard.
Clinical Applications in Surface Electromyography demonstrates several effective means to explicate content.
In this book, representing a culmination of more than a decade of research concerning the notion of energy, Todaro-Franceschi seeks to move beyond the everyday use of the word and to explicate some universal meaning for a phenomenon that she identifies as the basis for being and becoming.
The original Federalist Papers have become almost as famous as the Constitution they explicate. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote them to persuade the new American states to ratify the federal charter drafted by the Philadelphia Convention.