Explanation and Cognition


Explanations seem to be a large and natural part of our cognitive lives. As Frank Keil and Robert Wilson write, "When a cognitive activity is so ubiquitous that it is expressed both in a preschooler's idle questions and in work that is the culmination of decades of scholarly effort, one has to ask whether we really have one and the same phenomenon or merely different cognitively based phenomena that are loosely, or even metaphorically, related."

This book is unusual in its interdisciplinary approach to that ubiquitous activity. The essays address five basic questions about explanation: How do explanatory capacities develop? Are there kinds of explanation? Do explanations correspond to domains of knowledge? Why do we seek explanations, and what do they accomplish? How central are causes to explanation? The essays draw on work in the history and philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind and language, the development of concepts in children, conceptual change in adults, and reasoning in human and artificial systems. They also introduce emerging perspectives on explanation from computer science, linguistics, and anthropology.

Contributors: Woo-kyoung Ahn, William F. Brewer, Patricia W. Cheng, Clark A. Chinn, Andy Clark, Robert Cummins, Clark Glymour, Alison Gopnik, Christine Johnson, Charles W. Kalish, Frank C. Keil, Robert N. McCauley, Gregory L. Murphy, Ala Samarapungavan, Herbert A. Simon, Paul Thagard, Robert A. Wilson.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Contributors
  3. 1. Explaining Explanation

    Frank C. Keil and Robert A. Wilson

  4. I. Cognizing Explanations: Three Gambits
  5. 2. Discovering Explanations

    Herbert A. Simon

  6. 3. The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of Science

    Robert N. McCauley

  7. 4. The Shadow and Shallows of Explanation

    Robert A. Wilson and Frank C. Keil

  8. II. Explaining Cognition
  9. 5. "How Does It Work?" versus "What Are the Laws?": Two Conceptions of Psychological Explanation

    Robert Cummins

  10. 6. Twisted Tales: Causal Complexity and Cognitive Scientific Explanation

    Andy Clark

  11. III. The Representation of Causal Patterns
  12. 7. Bayes Nets as Psychological Models

    Clark Glymour

  13. 8. The Role of Mechanism Beliefs in Causal Reasoning

    Woo-kyoung Ahn and Charles W. Kalish

  14. 9. Causality in the Mind: Estimating Contextual and Conjunctive Power

    Patricia W. Cheng

  15. 10. Explaining Disease: Correlations, Causes, and Mechanisms

    Paul Thagard

  16. IV. Cognitive Development, Science, and Explanation
  17. 11. Explanation in Scientists and Children

    William F. Brewer, Clark A. Chinn and Ala Samarapungavan

  18. 12. Explanation as Orgasm and the Drive for Causal Knowledge: The Function, Evolution, and Phenomenology of the Theory Formation System

    Alison Gopnik

  19. V. Explanatory Influences on Concept Acquisition and Use
  20. 13. Explanatory Knowledge and Conceptual Combination

    Christine Johnson and Frank Keil

  21. 14. Explanatory Concepts

    Gregory L. Murphy

  22. Index