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Mathematical Explanation and the Theory of Why-Questions

David Sandborg
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 49, No. 4 (Dec., 1998), pp. 603-624
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/688133
Page Count: 22
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Mathematical Explanation and the Theory of Why-Questions
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Abstract

Van Fraassen and others have urged that judgements of explanations are relative to why-questions; explanations should be considered good in so far as they effectively answer why-questions. In this paper, I evaluate van Fraassen's theory with respect to mathematical explanation. I show that his theory cannot recognize any proofs as explanatory. I also present an example that contradicts the main thesis of the why-question approach--an explanation that appears explanatory despite its inability to answer the why-question that motivated it. This example shows how explanatory judgements can be context-dependent without being why-question-relative.

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