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Hempel in Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays tells us that “all scientific explanation involves, explicitly or by implication, a subsumption of its subject matter under general regularities; that it seeks to provide a systematic understanding of empirical phenomena by showing that they fit into a nomic nexus.” This I take to be an informal statement of his covering-law, “model” of scientific explanation. In defense of his “model” against apparent examples of scientific explanations which do not fit it, Hempel's almost instinctive reaction has been to patch them up in some way so that they do conform. This, I believe, is the wrong way to defend the covering-law “model”. In the three parts of this brief essay I shall do the following: (1) show that Hempel's attempt to patch up a certain version of so-called “rational” explanation does not succeed of its purpose, (2) generalize that result with respect to all dispositional explanations, and (3) reflect momentarily on philosophic method and another way to defend the covering-law “model”.
Given their importance in the history of ideas, monistic theories of society have received little serious attention in the literature. By a monistic theory, I mean one which holds that in a given area, one factor (or variable, as I shall usually call it) determines everything that happens; or, less strictly, that the one variable is the most important or crucial one in determining what happens in the given domain. There are social theories which hold, for example, that ideas are the only or crucially determining factor in history and theories which hold that certain ones among our ideas - religious or philosophical or scientific - constitute that factor. Other theories have maintained that a certain biological factor such as race or size is the major factor in the social process.
Philosophers who hold that the correct ontological analysis of things includes both properties and particulars have often been pressed to “show” the particular. If we are not acquainted with them, it is argued, then we should not suppose that they exist. I argue that, while we do have good and sufficient reasons for supposing there to be particulars, we are not acquainted with them. To suppose that we are acquainted with them is to treat particulars as if they were properties and to fail to realize how radically different particulars are from properties. The relevance of these matters to some considerations of “simplicity” and the principles of empiricism is explored.
Many believe that the Marxist philosophy of history entails that man is not free in a sense in which it seems obvious that he is. In particular it is held to be (1) materialistic, (2) holistic, (3) economistic, and (4) fatalistic. It is claimed, in short, that since the Marxist philosophy of history has these features, man is not capable of shaping his own (social) destiny if it is true. I show for each of these features either that it does not entail what it is believed to entail or that it is not correctly attributed to the Marxist philosophy of history.
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