Explanation for the cognitively bounded : psychology and the pragmatics of explanation
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] People consume, construct, and desire explanations. When our cars break down, hear strange noises in our homes, or a machine won't work, we want to know why those events happened. Moreover, formulating explanations is thought to be a chief concern of science. But what makes something an explanation? Philosophers have offered several answers; explanations appeal to causes, laws, mechanisms, or other types of information. One view, the view that I focus on in this dissertation, is that what makes something an explanation is how it is received by its audience. To explain to your audience is to communicate effectively in a particular way. This view is very intuitive. However, philosophers have been mostly silent about the role that the psychology of an explanation's audience in both characterizing something as an explanation and in characterizing what makes something a good explanation. This dissertation brings recent psychological research on explanation to bear on audience-centered theories of explanation. I argue that psychological studies about explanation yield insights about the nature of explanation that are best captured if we assume that audiences are cognitively limited beings. Surprisingly, this assumption about audiences has not been made explicit (or has been outright ignored) by philosophers who take the audience-centered approach. To show how it is that the cognitive limits of audiences constrain and determine what makes a particular utterance an explanation, I argue that we should model the situation of an explainer who confronts the problem of explaining to her audience. Under these circumstances, the best explanation is the explanation that has the features that best appeal to the audience's psychology. This proposal gives an explicit place to the psychology of the audience absent in other audience-centered accounts.
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