Tag Archives: explanation

Daniel Nettle

Why would the amount you worry about disease be a significant predictor of the a mount you worry about social relationships? After all, you might have had a history of dependable and reliable relationships, but some unsettling brushes with disease. The answer must be that the menta mechanisms that underlie worrying about disease share brain circuitry with the mental mechanisms that underlie worrying about other things. Any variation in the responsiveness of those shared circuits will show up in all kinds of worrying, not just one kind. It’s a bit like a car. The handbrake and the footbrake do different jobs and have some separate components, but they also rely on the same hydraulic system. As a consequence, a loss of brake-fluid pressure will show up in reduced effectiveness in both brakes. The more two components draw on shared machinery, the greater the extent to which the performance of one will be a predictor of the performance of the other.

Daniel Nettle, Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are, Oxford, 2007, pp. 50-51

David Hume

[S]uppose, that all the historians who treat of England, should agree, that, on the first of January 1600, Queen Elizabeth died; that both before and after her death she was seen by her physicians and the whole court, as is usual with persons of her rank; that her successor was acknowledged and proclaimed by the parliament; and that, after being interred a month, she again appeared, resumed the throne, and governed England for three years: I must confess that I should be surprized at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event. I should not doubt of her pretended death, and of those other public circumstances that followed it: I should only assert it to have been pretended, and that it neither was, nor possibly could be real. You would in vain object to me the difficulty, and almost impossibility of deceiving the world in an affair of such consequence; the wisdom and solid judgment of that renowned queen; with the little or no advantage which she could reap from so poor an artifice: All this might astonish me; but I would still reply, that the knavery and folly of men are such common phaenomena, that I should rather believe the most extraordinary events to arise from their concurrence, than admit of so signal a violation of the laws of nature.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, London, 1748, sect. 10, pt. 2

William James

It takes […] what Berkeley calls a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange, so far as to ask for the why of any instinctive human act. To the metaphysician alone can such questions occur as: Why do we smile, when pleased, and not scowl? Why are we unable to talk to a crowd as we talk to a single friend? Why does a particular maiden turn our wits so upside-down? The common man can only say, “Of course we smile, of course our heart palpitates at the sight of the crowd, of course we love the maiden, that beautiful soul clad in that perfect form, so palpably and flagrantly made from all eternity to be loved!”

William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 2, New York, 1890, pp. 386-387

Michel de Montaigne

Je vois ordinairement, que les hommes, aux faicts qu’on leur propose, s’amusent plus volontiers à en chercher la raison, qu’à en chercher la verité : Ils passent par dessus les presuppositions, mais ils examinent curieusement les consequences. Ils laissent les choses, et courent aux causes. Plaisans causeurs. La cognoissance des causes touche seulement celuy, qui a la conduitte des choses : non à nous, qui n’en avons que la souffrance. Et qui en avons l’usage parfaictement plein et accompli, selon nostre besoing, sans en penetrer l’origine et l’essence. Ny le vin n’en est plus plaisant à celuy qui en sçait les facultez premieres. Au contraire : et le corps et l’ame, interrompent et alterent le droit qu’ils ont de l’usage du monde, et de soy-mesmes, y meslant l’opinion de science. Les effectz nous touchent, mais les moyens, nullement. Le determiner et le distribuer, appartient à la maistrise, et à la regence : comme à la subjection et apprentissage, l’accepter. Reprenons nostre coustume. Ils commencent ordinairement ainsi : Comment est-ce que cela se fait ? mais, se fait-il ? faudroit il dire.

Michel de Montaigne, Essais, III, 11

Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert

The more quickly people reach an understanding of negative events, the sooner they recover from them. […] Virtually all tests […], however, have examined people’s understanding of negative events. The AREA [attend, react, explain, and adapt] model is unique in predicting that explanation also leads to the diminution of affective reactions to positive events. We predict that anything that impedes explanation—such as uncertainty—should prolong affective reactions to positive events. […] These studies highlight a pleasure paradox, which refers to the fact that people have two fundamental motives—to understand the world and to maintain positive emotion—that are sometimes at odds.

Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert, ‘Explaining away: A model of affective adaptation’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 3, No. 5 (September, 2008), pp. 377-378

John Broome

Prichard seems to have thought […] that the normativity of morality cannot be explained at all. But that does not follow. Even if there is no instrumental explanation of its normativity, there may be an explanation of some other sort. It would truly be unsatisfactory if there was no explanation at all. It would be a bad blow to philosophy to find there are inexplicable facts.

John Broome, ‘Reply to Southwood, Kearns and Star, and Cullity’, Ethics, vol. 119, no. 1 (October, 2008), p. 98

John Post

[B]elief in a “God-of-the-gaps” is vulnerable to scientific advances that close the gaps. Among the gaps on which theists once relied, and on which many still rely, is the presumed inability of the sciences to explain the origin of the human species or of life or the Earth or our solar system. These gaps have not been largely closed. The ultimate gap, for many theists, concerns the origin of the universe; even if the other gaps are closed, that one can never be. But we have just been seeing how it too might be closed.

John Post, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, New York, 1991, p. 90