Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Review of Garfinkel's Forms of Explanation

Alan Garfinkel's Forms of Explanation is a bit dated and I am not sure what to make of it.

Chapters 1 and 2 are certainly worthwhile reading. They offer the beginnings of an interesting discussion of contrastive explanations and one account of what it is to be a reductive explanation. There are actually many more kinds than Garfinkel describes, but no matter. His is interesting enough. Chapter 3 peters out to some warmed over naive Marxism/Rawlsian stuff. There for some reason he pulls a fast one and pretty much tells you he is going to conflate explanations and justifications, and you should live with it. I suppose one can't argue with that.

Chapter 4 he builds up to a position that can probably be paraphrased as "given that we live in a society (with relations between individuals) you can't explain the relations in society by appealing only to individuals.

The book ends with what we'd now call a pragmatic account of explanation. Garfinkel was probably not aware of the work by people like Achinstein on this very notion, or he just didn't bother mentioning it. And the real statement of pragmatic explanations was published about a year before by van Fraassen, and he was most likely not aware of that either.

I am hesitant to recommend this, but the book is about the question of explanation in the philosophy of the social sciences. There is not all that much out there on this topic and you can do worse, but perhaps skipping chapter three would make it less annoying to read.

No comments: