Essays on Explanation and Understanding: Studies in the Foundations of Humanities and Social Sciences

Juha Manninen; R. Tuomela

The volume reviewed here contains sixteen essays on various aspects of G. H. von Wright's Explanation and Understanding, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971). In addition, there are two contributions by von Wright himself: one is a reply to the essays, the other is a new development and amplification of his ideas. In Explanation and Understanding von Wright argues for a teleological explanation of human action. The method employed places him firmly in the analytic tradition. Yet his substantive thesis reveals fundamental sym- pathies with hermeneutic philosophy. Thus von Wright cuts across the analytic-continental dichotomy. The editors included philosophers from both traditions. If the purpose of the book is to collect high level discussions of the topic, then the book is a success for it contains four essays of great importance and several other very good ones. If, however, the purpose is to foster exchanges between analytic and continental philosophers, then it has failed. Bubner and Kron contribute pieces in which they write about what interests them; namely, the possibility transcendental hermeneutics and a formal analysis of causality, but they make little effort to connect their discussions with von Wright's thesis. Reidel's article is a tedious account full of ex cathedra pronouncements delivered in what barely qualifies as English. Makai, on the other hand, writes a communist manifesto on the ex- planation of human action; it reads as a more theoretical editorial in Prav- da. Readers insufficiently familiar with the background could do no better than read Stoutland's lucid essay. It is an excellent introduction. Winch and Tuomela criticize von Wright on the alleged circularity of his account. The argument is that von Wright claims that the concept of causality is based on the concept of action. But both causal explanations and explanations of ac- tion involve counterfactuals, and the counterfactuals are causal. Thus causality is presupposed by the explanation of action and not the other way around. Von Wright defends his position by arguing that the counterfac- tuals involved in the explanation of action are noncausal. Kim raises two difficulties. One is that if von Wright can successfully make out a case for the connection between premises and conclusions in a practical inference being logical or conceptual and not causal, then it is still unclear how there being such a connection between intention and action explains the action. Von Wright's reply is that the logical or conceptual connection is primitive. That means that explanation comes to an end there. The other difficulty raised by Kim is Sturgeon's counterexample to von Wright's scheme of sup- posedly valid practical inference. Von Wright acknowledges the difficulty and gives some indication of how he might meet it. Kenny argues that unlike deontic, epistemic, and doxastic logics, a logic of ability is not possible for ability cannot be captured in a possible world semantics. In response, von Wright offers some initial axioms of a logic of ability. Hertzberg faults von Wright on account of presupposing that deliberation and decision must precede action. Their true order is the reverse: actions are normally taken without deliberation; deliberation enters only when there is a conflict and decision has to be made.' Von Wright's reply is to deny that his account in the book is committed to this presupposition. Niiniluoto disagrees with von Wright on the grounds that in denying that the connection between the premises and the conclusion of a practical inference is contingent many forms of inductive connections have been ignored. The four pieces which make this volume of great interest are con- essay opens up exciting and promising avenues of investigation. Hintikka's argument is that there is an irreducible difference between nonintentional or physical phenomena and intentional ones. The former are subject to explanation, the latter to understanding. The originality of Hin- tikka's position is that he identifies intentionality with intensionality. He defines a concept as intentional if and only if it involves the simultaneous consideration of several possible states of affairs. Thus the intentional is what is essentially capable of treatment by possible world semantics. With one elegant suggestion, Hintikka offers a theory of intentionality, shows the relevance of possible world semantics to issues in the foundation of social sciences, and provides the beginnings of a theoretical account of human ac- tion. MacIntyre does no less than argue convincingly that the traditional way of thinking about causality is fundamentally mistaken. He attacks a premise accepted by both those who think that the covering law model is applicable to history and the social sciences and those, like von Wright, who deny its applicability. The tradition has it that causality is a relation which is: first, nomic; second, dyadic; third, holding between types of events; and fourth, such that each effect may have plural causes. MacIntyre argues that causal- ity holds between individuals, that the relation is not nomic, that each causal connection has four terms, and for each effect one and only one cause can count as exploration. If his argument is correct, one pillar of our epistemological tradition has crumbled. This paper must be taken seriously. Martin criticizes von Wright's scheme of practical inference on the grounds that it is incomplete. It is not enough for understanding the connec- tion between intention and action to show that the agent believed that his action will bring about the intended result. It is also a requirement of our understanding the action that the agent's belief be intelligible to us. The in- telligibility of the belief, however, depends on understanding it in the cultural context in which it was performed. Thus the social sciences must be historical. This argument is not original but it has never been developed more convincingly. The last significant contribution is-fittingly-von Wright's. In 'Determinism and the Study of Man' he largely grants Martin's thesis and comes close to agreeing with substantial portions of MacIntyre's. The argu- ment is that deterministic ideas in the social sciences and history have a rela- tion to social institutions and rules which is analogous to the relation bet- ween deterministic ideas and natural laws in the natural sciences. Social rules are not generalizations, but conceptual schemata; they are made. And while we are bound by them, we also invent them. Thus determinism in the social sciences and history means something quite different from what it does in the natural sciences. These four articles make the volume exceptionally worthwhile. But not even they justify the exorbitant price which Reidel is now accustomed to charging.

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