Full Text

68. Statistical Explanation


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics explanation, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00071.x


Generally speaking, scientific explanation has been a topic of lively discussion in twentieth-century philosophy of science; philosophers of science have endeavored to characterize rigorously a number of different types of explanation to be found in the various fields of scientific research. Given the indispensability of statistical concepts and techniques in virtually every branch of modern science, it is natural to ask whether some scientific explanations are essentially statistical or probabilistic in character. The answer would seem to be yes. For example, we can explain why atoms of carbon 14 have a 1/4 probability of surviving for 11,460 years because the half-life of that species is 5,730 years. As we shall see, explanations of this type are not especially problematic. As another example, we might explain why a particular weed withered by citing the fact that it received a dose of a herbicide, even though we know that the herbicide is not invariably effective. This means that the withering is related probabilistically to the herbicide treatment but is not necessitated by it. Explanations of this kind, by contrast, lead to severe difficulties. Carl G. Hempel's (1965) is the locus classicus for discussions of scientific explanation in the latter part of the twentieth century. This work contains a profound investigation of the existence and nature of statistical explanation ... log in or subscribe to read full text

Log In

You are not currently logged-in to Blackwell Reference Online

If your institution has a subscription, you can log in here:


     Forgotten your password?

Find out how to subscribe.

Your library does not have access to this title. Please contact your librarian to arrange access.

[ access key 0 : accessibility information including access key list ] [ access key 1 : home page ] [ access key 2 : skip navigation ] [ access key 6 : help ] [ access key 9 : contact us ] [ access key 0 : accessibility statement ]

Blackwell Publishing Home Page

Blackwell Reference Online ® is a Blackwell Publishing Inc. registered trademark
Technology partner: Semantico Ltd.

Blackwell Publishing and its licensors hold the copyright in all material held in Blackwell Reference Online. No material may be resold or published elsewhere without Blackwell Publishing's written consent, save as authorised by a licence with Blackwell Publishing or to the extent required by the applicable law.

Back to Top