Are Statistical Explanations Really Explanatory?

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Citation: Meixner, J. (1982) Are Statistical Explanations Really Explanatory?. Philosophical Studies, 42, pp. 201-7 (RSS)



Meixner addresses the problems of statistical explanation, and suggests that the statistics account behind explanation is entirely independent of the probability of the event which was explained. His research problem is that are explanations essentially statistical? He then pointed out the problem in the covering-law model. In order to expect an event, we need to connect the factors are statistically relevant to its occurrence. However, most statistical explanations depends on the possibility that many fundamental laws are essential random or by chance. In other words, the possibility of actual factor or cause of a given event is actually statistically improbable, which leads to problematic explanation.

He thinks that although statistical relevance model proposed by Salmon attempt to remove this problem in the covering-law model, Salmon still failed to explain why the exact cause for particular event. Meixner uses the lottery as an example to discuss how Salmon fail to explain the cause. Although Meixner did not provide any solution to this problem, he points out the problem of statistical account, which provides us a way to rethink the nature of explanation.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

I think some points in Meixner paper are quite interesting and relevant to archaeology. For example, he mentions that what is the object of explanation, and thinks that what salmon explain is event. This reminds me we need to always recognize the object we want to explain in archaeology, and I think what we actually want to explain is not the pattern of artifacts but the human behavior behinds them.