Arnold Koslow – Explanation and Modality
“Explanation and Modality“
Friday, March 19th
PR-100 4pm (2100 McKay)
We begin with some brief observations about Aristotle’s discussion of his four causes. That account is now regarded as our first detailed account of explanation, and it is something of a problem that he thought explanations showed not only why something is true (given that it is), but that they also showed why it is necessarily true. This has been regarded as a serious mistake, conflating the explanation of contingent maters of fact with explanations of mathematical truths.
We then develop a mini-theory of some general features, avoiding any commitment to any particular model of explanation (deductive, causal, probabilistic, etc.), and develop some interesting features that are “model-independent”. Next we introduce a notion of modality, and show that explanations do confer a type of modality necessity on what is explained. There is a type of modal necessity operator (“explanatory necessity”) such that anything that is explained will have that necessity. However in the case of mathematical truth and matters of contingent fact, different modal operators may be involved, though they are still modal operators of the same explanatory kind.
We think that these results are of interest in their own right, but they may incidentally perhaps vindicate the old man after all.