All people desire to know. We want to not only know what has happened, but also why it happened, how it happened, whether it will happen again, whether it can be made to happen or not happen, and so on. In short, what we want are explanations. Asking and answering explanatory questions lies at the very heart of scientific practice. The primary aim of this book is to help readers understand how science explains the world. This book explores the nature and contours of scientific explanation, how such explanations are evaluated, as well as how they lead to knowledge and understanding. As well as providing an introduction to scientific explanation, it also tackles misconceptions and misunderstandings, while remaining accessible to a general audience with little or no prior philosophical training.
1. Why Explanation Matters in Science
2. The General Nature of Explanation
3. Specific Kinds of Explanations
4. Explanation and Prediction
5. Evaluating Explanations
6. Explanatory Quality and Felt Understanding
7. False Theories, But Accurate Explanations?
8. From Explanation to Knowledge
Kevin McCain is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His academic research interests lie in epistemology and philosophy of science, focusing on the role of explanatory reasoning in the production of scientific knowledge. He is the author/editor of numerous articles and books, including Uncertainty: How It Makes Science Advance (Oxford University Press, 2019), What Is Scientific Knowledge (Routledge, 2019) and The Nature of Scientific Knowledge (Springer, 2016).
"This engaging book effectively introduces a wide range of philosophical ideas about scientific explanation in an accessible way. It's attentive to nuances but avoids getting bogged down in details and debates."
– Angela Potochnik, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science, University of Cincinnati
"Kevin McCain's excellent book zooms in on the role of explanation in science and links it with scientific understanding. McCain has the enviable gift to write a gentle introduction for the novice reader that also provides a fresh perspective that is interesting for the specialist. Overall, this book is an accessible and illuminating contribution to the literature on scientific explanation."
– Olaf Dammann, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University
"In this concise and elegant book, McCain provides a superb overview of current thinking about the nature of explanation in science, correcting common misunderstandings and providing a clearly written, entertaining, and insightful guide to the enterprise of understanding the world."
– Michael Strevens, Professor of Philosophy, New York University
"Understanding How Science Explains the World is a very impressive achievement. It draws on and develops some of the most important philosophical views on the nature of explanation, while carefully engaging throughout with important examples from the history of science (including quite recent history, which takes into account scientific attempts to explain and understand COVID-19). Highly recommended."
– Stephen R. Grimm, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University