By Philip Kitcher, Wesley C. Salmon
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Extra resources for Scientific Explanation
Hempel's analysis of functions is, I think, logically impeccable. If an admissible explanation of any fact must be an argument to the effect that the fact-to-beexplained was to be expected by virtue of the explanatory facts, then functional 'explanations' are not admissible explanations. But I have often noticed that, in philosophy as well as other human endeavors, one person's counterexample is another's modus ponens. Hempel concludes from his discussion that functional analysis cannot qualify as an admissible type of explanation; at best, it has heuristic value.
Without this transport of oxygen a human being could not survive. In evolutionary biology, for another example, a feature of a species of animal is explained in terms of its enhancement of the chances of survival and reproduction. The large ears of the jackrabbit, which inhabits very hot regions, enable the animal to control its body temperature. When its body temperature rises too high, the animal seeks shade and dilates the many blood vessels in the ears. Blood coming from other parts of the body brings heat which is radiated into the environment, thereby cooling the animal.
The first concept with which we must come to terms is that of a law of nature, and, as we have seen, it is one of the most problematic. Hempel and Oppenheim distinguish between lawlike sentences and genuine laws, and also between fundamental and derivative laws. 3a) A fundamental lawlike sentence is any purely universal sentence; a fundamental law is purely universal and true. 3b) A derivative law is a sentence that is essentially, but not purely, universal and is deducible from some set of fundamental laws.