An explanation is simply that which allows for the object's intelligibility, which could in turn be claimed to be necessary in any justified argument about such an object(s). For example, the premise 'all swans are birds' and the conclusion 'all swans grow feathers', seems to require more primary understandings, namely the understanding of the terms (like 'swans', 'birds', and 'feathers') in the argument. Not being mere brute facts (so to say, not merely being understood in the fact of their being), such terms are able to be rationally discussed (as in having something more which can be said of them besides the fact that they are, so as to say that they are in a certain way, as possessing an explanation, or nature, or essence), which is evidenced in the purpose and conclusion of the argument. If swans being birds was mere brute fact, than it means that 'swans having feathers', which is the conclusion of the argument, is also a mere brute fact. As such, there is nothing more to be said about such facts, such as any relation they hold to anything else, including the relation between 'all swans being a bird' and 'all swans growing feathers'. But this relation is precisely what allows for the argument.

The same would seem to go with non-inferential arguments as well, and indeed with any argument that has terms that are supposed to follow from other terms (so an attack upon induction won't do). This seems to imply that any argument presupposes its subjects to have some explanation as to their being that is likely distinct in some manner from the fact of their being, as is evidenced in the necessity of understanding a term's intelligibility (or essence) for an argument, while not necessarily requiring to know if it is at all (unless the argument is about such a thing's existence). It is the explanation that allows for the substance of the argument's very relation between the premise and the conclusion; for example, since swans are birds, that means that swans are creatures that do naturally grow feathers, precisely because feathers are things that are grown by birds. Understanding the terms requires understanding the relation between them, which is allowed only in reference to such terms' explanations. However, is this analysis valid, and if not, what are its problems and/or limitations? Does it apply to all arguments?

  • I'm not sure I follow all this, and it seems the question could be cleaned up and pared down a bit. If you are not already aware of it, you might look at Quine's influential "Web of Belief" arguments, which might be pertinent. Perhaps someone else could relate the "web" to your question. – Nelson Alexander Oct 24 '15 at 15:40
  • You're right. The analysis was young in the making. It has since been hashed out further with the help of the answers provided. Thanks for the reference to Quine's 'Web of Belief' also. I'm only somewhat familiar with Quine – Chosen One Oct 26 '15 at 22:57

Tarski, in his non-definability theorem, proved that all systems defined by formal languages which can prove the laws of arithmetic cannot prove their own validity, thus there must be some semantic content in the argument which cannot be captured by the language.

This only applies for formal languages, and only those formal languages that try to prove the laws of [Peano] arithmetic, but many arguments which seek to have no dependencies on external terms rapidly approach formality and rapidly begin needing to describe arithmetic as a side effect of trying to describe their own semantics.

Not all arguments fall down this path. I have reason to suspect that many arguments involving the Chinese concept of "Dao" do not -- they have their own interesting peculiarities instead. But you'll find many Western arguments which try to describe their own semantics do fall into these formal language patterns, and provably can never complete their quest for self-sufficiency.


This is a distinction for example that Kants points out in his distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions; the first merely refers to the propositions logical form, whereas in the latter it refers (Bedeutung) to things of substance in the world, and this is how the proposition gains sense (Sinn) by expressing a thought about the world.

It's the crux, too of the difference between Freges and Hilberts conception of what can a proposition signify. Hilbert by focusing on the merely analytic, elaborated a philosophy of formalism; whereas Freges concerns have been 'side-stepped'.

To put this into context; consider the pedagogy that goes into teaching geometry - a pedagogy that is forgotten generally when reflecting on the nature of geometry; but not when who had been taught geometry teaches it.

We start with lines drawn with rulers, points marked with pencils, and circles drawn by compasses; on paper laid out on a flat table (and Euclidean geometry is flat); then lines are measured with rulers, angles by protracters; and certain algorithms are followed or thought through...

Thus we get a feeling of how geometry is in the world; later when we compose them in the mind when given a sketch of the argument in writing or a sketch of a diagram surely this sense remains there to fill out the form of our thought that thinks on the geometric proposition presented to us.

Thus one might say that we gain a certain geometric intuition ...

So, yes; for when we fully reflect on what it takes to consider the thought contained in an argument; we see that we must consider the genealogy of the thought that leads upto the argument, and also at the same time, we must consider too the genealogy of its parts - it's terms - that is its explanation.

  • I thought that this question held certain similarity with Kant's argument for a restricted PSR. It's interesting to see that another person also sees the similarity to Kant's philosophy. Thanks for the answer. – Chosen One Oct 24 '15 at 16:10
  • @chosen one: you're welcome; what's PSR? – Mozibur Ullah Oct 24 '15 at 16:28
  • It's also considered good site citizenship to vote up answers that one likes ;). – Mozibur Ullah Oct 24 '15 at 16:50
  • PSR stands for 'principle of sufficient reason'; it's generally the statement that everything that is requires a reason as to its being that way. And I would upvote you but I don't have enough reputation points. – Chosen One Oct 24 '15 at 21:30
  • @chosen one: ah, ok; I know the principle but not the abbreviation; Thks. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 24 '15 at 21:31

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