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The Probable and The Provable$
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L. Jonathan Cohen

Print publication date: 1977

Print ISBN-13: 9780198244127

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198244127.001.0001

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Criteria of Merit for Explanations of Individual Events

Criteria of Merit for Explanations of Individual Events

(p.282) 20 Criteria of Merit for Explanations of Individual Events
The Probable and The Provable

L. Jonathan Cohen

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the criteria of merit for explanations of individual events. It first introduces Hempel's theory of explanation for individual events. The covering laws for both proofs and explanations are reviewed. Apart from various forms of incompleteness that do not necessarily invalidate what Hempel calls deductive-nomological explanation, there is also a kind of insufficiency in the statement of explanatory conditions that according to Hempel renders an attempt at such explanation merely programmatic. But this is paradoxical and the paradox can be avoided by recognizing that the adequacy of the explanation varies with its inductive probability. In explaining individual events, it does not need to aim at maximum comprehensiveness in the covering laws invoked, as when uniformities are explained: rather, the more adequate the explanation, the more heavily qualified the covering law is likely to be.

Keywords:   theory of explanation, Hempel, individual events, covering laws, proofs, inductive probability

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