Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 March 2022
To explain the phenomena in the world of our experience, to answer the question “why?” rather than only the question “what?”, is one of the foremost objectives of all rational inquiry; and especially, scientific research in its various branches strives to go beyond a mere description of its subject matter by providing an explanation of the phenomena it investigates. While there is rather general agreement about this chief objective of science, there exists considerable difference of opinion as to the function and the essential characteristics of scientific explanation. In the present essay, an attempt will be made to shed some light on these issues by means of an elementary survey of the basic pattern of scientific explanation and a subsequent more rigorous analysis of the concept of law and of the logical structure of explanatory arguments.
This paper represents the outcome of a series of discussions among the authors; their individual contributions cannot be separated in detail. The technical developments contained in Part IV, however, are due to the first author, who also put the article into its final form.
Some of the ideas presented in Part II were suggested by our common friend, Kurt Grelling, who, together with his wife, became a victim of Nazi terror during the war. Those ideas were developed by Grelling, in a discussion by correspondence with the present authors, of emergence and related concepts. By including at least some of that material, which is indicated in the text, in the present paper, we feel that we are realizing the hope expressed by Grelling that his contributions might not entirely fall into oblivion.
We wish to express our thanks to Dr. Rudolf Carnap, Dr. Herbert Feigl, Dr. Nelson Goodman, and Dr. W. V. Quine for stimulating discussions and constructive criticism.