14/4/2018

Explanatory Power

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:50 pm

The last couple of posts have focused on explanations in science education, but this one pivots back to explanations in science.

There is a scheme, owed to Hempel, of 5 kinds of explanations in science and their relation to scientific laws, but that is a topic for another day.

In brief, a scientific theory – which is not the same thing as a scientific law – ought to have descriptive, predictive and explanatory power.

There are some laws which do not have explanatory power. Kepler’s Laws describe the motion of the planets accurately, but they are ’empirical’ laws, constructed based on observations. They do not include any explanation of the phenomena they describe and predict. It required gravitational theories from Newton and later Einstein to explain why the planets move as they do.

Indeed, it could be argued that laws – mathematical relationships between quantities – never have explanatory power. They explain what happens, but not why.

Scientific theories, however, explain what happens. That is what a scientific explanation is and is for.

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