Two kinds of explanation are addressed in Chapter 11: physical causal and behavioral
causal. When physical phenomena need explaining, the hypothetical causes are drawn from
a physical background, e.g. "The reason the paper is on the lawn is because the wind blew it
there." When behavioral phenomena need explaining, the hypothetical causes are drawn
from a psychological background, e.g. "The reason she went to the Dairy Barn was because
she desired ice cream."
An explanation's adequacy is relative to what one is looking for. Nevertheless, it
shouldn't be unnecessarily complicated, circular, inconsistent, incompatible with fact or
theory, vague, or untestable in principle. It shouldn't generate meaningless predictions,
false predictions, or no predictions at all.
The general strategy for forming causal hypotheses (or educated guesses) is called
"inference to the best explanation." Observing an association, or co-variation, between two
events can serve as a beginning. Inferring a causal connection, however, requires rigorous
application of the Methods of Agreement and Difference while being guided by background
knowledge of causal mechanisms. Finding a hypothesis that adequately explains the facts
can be like diagnosing a disease or solving a crime. The Best Diagnosis Method gathers as
many "symptoms" as possible, tries to sift out the irrelevant ones, and tries to find the
Controlled cause-to-effect experiments are the most direct way of confirming a
causal hypothesis. By repeating an experiment and systematically eliminating other
possible causes and getting the same effect, the hypothesis becomes confirmed. Indirect
methods of testing causal hypotheses are more appropriate for human populations, for
practical and ethical reasons. These studies compare a group of people who exhibit the
effect under investigation with a control group who do not have it. Animal experiments are
another way to avoid testing humans directly. The results may be applied to humans by
There are many, and varied, ways of making mistakes in causal reasoning. Some of
the most prominent involve believing there is a causal connection between A and B when
actually the relationship is: coincidental, a result of a third underlying cause, or reversed.
The law relies on establishing a causal relationship between an action and the
resulting harm. Whether or not someone is held liable for something depends on whether or
not the harm can be traced back to his/her action as the proximate cause.
Explanations are different than arguments. There are two kinds of
explanations: physical causal and behavioral causal.
You use arguments to support a statement but explanations to elucidate the
reasons why some event happened.