Source: 12 min 56 s juncture, Lecture 1-5 (transcription), ... How to Reason and Argue, by Prof W Sinnott-Armstrong

[1.] Explanation is, an attempt to fit a particular phenomenon into a general pattern
in order to increase our understanding of why it happened and to remove bewilderment or surprise.
[2.] Explanation is not persuasion, or justification, or generalization, or prediction.

  1. Am I correct that in 1, the italicised infinitival clause describes generalisation?
  2. Then does 2 contradict 1?

I believe generalization is the dual of explanation. While, from the professor's wording, explanation is fitting a general pattern to the occurrence, I find generalization is usually defined as creating a general pattern from one or more occurrences.


First, let's try to define both explanation and generalisation.


Roughly speaking, it is a series of statements designed to shed light on a supposed matter of fact.

An explanation is composed of two things: the explicandum and the explicans.

The explicandum → the fact, thing, or expression which is to be explained.

The explicans → the explanation given for a fact, thing, or expression.

For example:

Smoke appears because of fire: a combination of flammable material, oxygen, and sufficient heat.

Smoke appears is the explicandum and fire: a combination of flammable material, oxygen, and sufficient heat is the explicans.


Roughly speaking, this is a broad statement or an idea which is supposed to apply to a group of things.

For example:

The customer is always right

My answer

It seems to me that a generalisation such as the above can be part of the explicandum but it shouldn't be part of the explicans because, ideally, it would require an explanation of its own.

This is of course assuming that you want your explanation to be a good one.

In this sense, a generalisation doesn't quite fit the explanation criteria.

  • Thanks. Can you please clarify to what noun 'it' refers, in your 3rd last paragraph? What is its antecedent? – NNOX Apps Jan 14 '16 at 3:43

Explanation is not persuasion

Explanations can persuade by its explanatory power tending towards truth; but I'd suggest that the posited difference here is that of persuasion as in rhetoric, whose primary intention is to persuade to its point of view, whether in fact it is true or not; part of the rhetoric of persuasion may include explanation. A good example to think over here is a typical courtroom situation where there are two advocates presenting two views.


In the framework of logic, an explanation may be seen as a proof, whereas generalization may be seen as a process for inferring more general clauses, where generality is defined by entailment amongst clauses.

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