2.61 Explanation

Category: Philosophy of Science

Keywords: explanations, explanatory, explanation, explaining, explained, reduction, emergent, emergence, explains, bridge, reductionist, hempel, reductionism, explain, reductive

Number of Articles: 260
Percentage of Total: 0.8%
Rank: 60th

Weighted Number of Articles: 279.5
Percentage of Total: 0.9%
Rank: 56th

Mean Publication Year: 1985.1
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1984.9
Median Publication Year: 1986
Modal Publication Year: 1967

Topic with Most Overlap: Laws (0.046)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Functions (0.0321)
Topic with Least Overlap: Beauty (0.00021)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Dewey and Pragmatism (0.00048)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the explanationtopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 2011 when 2.0% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1877 when 0.0% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.61 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.142: Explanation.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Explanationtopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 0.5%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 0.5%. Ethics - 0.2%. Philosophical Review - 0.4%. Analysis - 0.5%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.2%. Journal of Philosophy - 0.8%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 0.6%. Philosophy of Science - 2.5%. Noûs - 1.0%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 0.7%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 1.6%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 2012 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 1.7% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1877 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.0% of the articles.

Figure 2.143: Explanation articles in each journal.

Table 2.151: Characteristic articles of the explanation topic.
Table 2.152: Highly cited articles in the explanation topic.


I’ve called this explanation, but that’s potentially misleading. It’s really focussed on noncausal approaches to explanation. I suspect that’s less because noncausal theories of explanation are distictive, and more because there are so many other topics that discuss causation.

This topic ends up being somewhat squeezed, so the numbers here understate the importance of explanation as a topic. Some papers you might intuitively classify as being about explanation end up in causation. Others end up in laws. Yet others end up in theories and realism. So the numbers here are more of a lower bound for the importance of explanation than anything else.

That said, the upward trend here is a bit interesting to me. I wouldn’t have expected that just from the topic. Part of the story is that this topic also includes papers on reduction (at least if they didn’t get classified in laws or in theories and realism), and there was a bit of a regrowth of interest in that in the 2000s and early 2010s.