Last week, I asked (among other things), “Why should we care about the relationship between explanation, understanding, and truth?” One answer to this question is that explanatory considerations are frequently used to argue for the objectivity of our discourses Specifically, IBE is used to justify various forms of realism. Broadly construed, realists claim that some philosophically controversial part of our discourse (e.g. about unobservable entities in science, about the external world, other minds, morality) refers to mind-independent truths. Realists who do this via IBE claim that these mind-independence truths best explain the relevant evidence. Hence, realists who deploy IBE claim that there is an intimate relationship between our best explanations and the truth. Indeed, anybody who uses IBE seems committed to this claim. After all, a good inference transmits the truth of its premises to its conclusion. So, endorsing IBE entails accepting that good explanations are a reliable guide to truth. (People might disagree about whether mind-independent truths best explain the relevant evidence, as Harman and Frost-Arnold do in our readings.)
There are at least three related domains in which IBE is used to justify realism. First, scientific realists argue that claims about the unobservable posits of scientific theories (e.g. subatomic particles) are true because otherwise the success of science would be unexplained. This is called “The No-Miracles Argument,” and it has received its fair share of criticism, e.g. (Frost-Arnold 2010). Second, we’ll skim Thagard’s (2000)’s chapter, “Reality,” to get a sense of how IBE can justify realism about certain metaphysical issues. Finally, we’ll read Harman’s “Ethics & Explanation,” which denies moral realism on the grounds that it does NOT provide the best explanation of the relevant phenomena. Finally, we’ll read Sturgeon’s “Moral Explanations” for a rebuttal of Harman’s position.
So, one answer to the “Why care?” question is that you should care about the relationship between explanation and truth because it figures prominently in discussions about the objectivity of various kinds of discourse. To that end, it would be good to know:
(1) Whether IBE provides a sound justification for this position.
(2) If IBE can’t provide such a justification, whether it’s more defensible to:
a. Reject realism (i.e. become an antirealist), or
b. Find a different justification for realism.