Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2022
The ontic conception of explanation, according to which explanations are full-bodied things in the world, is fundamentally misguided. I argue instead for what I call the eikonic conception, according to which explanations are the product of an epistemic activity involving representations of the phenomena to be explained. What is explained in the first instance is a particular conceptualization of the explanandum phenomenon, contextualized within a given research program or explanatory project. I conclude that this eikonic conception has a number of benefits, including making better sense of scientific practice and allowing for the full range of normative constraints on explanation.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Alexey Onufriev for many stimulating discussions about water modeling research. I am also grateful to audience members at various venues (including PSA16, Western University, Prague, University of Edinburgh, Cambridge University, and Durham University) for constructive feedback on earlier incarnations of this article. I am most indebted, however, to Wendy Parker, whose uncompromising standards and incisive insights, always delivered in a generous and constructive spirit, make her an ideal editor.