In everyday life people supposedly have a reason for acting in a certain way, or when under scrutiny, they can-to a certain degree-attribute certain actions as intended components to a process that would-to the best of their understanding-enable them to achieve some given objective. Reasons and objectives don't need-and usually are not-in the singular. There can be at the same time many reasons and many objectives and the actions that manifest in between the two, might or might not overlap.

From a philosophical point of view, does it matter how action is justified or explained? Similarly, is explanation relevant to philosophy?

  • maybe this could be linked to morals. we act based on them too and most of the time we claim our morals are good when they could easily be quite evil.
    – L_Church
    May 22 '18 at 9:49


In everyday life, including moral situations, we need to be able to influence or control others' actions. We may do this by persuasion, pleading, threat, inducement, argument, manipulation of emotions, lying or truth-telling, blackmail, ostracism or by other means (for this example) short of coercion. If we had no explanatory model of human agency, whether crude or refined, approximate or highly accurate, we would not be able to use these methods of influence or control - as in fact, on the contrary, we often do use them very effectively. The human agent's 'springs of action' would be completely opaque to us. We should not be able to interact.

The model, if 'folk psychological', may be tacit and operate below the level of explicit consciousness or it may on occasion be explicit to consciousness. But without some model, or a variety of models, of behavioural explanation we could not interact with others so as to influence or control them. Everyday life would be unrecognisably different.

This has implications for philosophy since, for example, both the philosophy or mind and ethics assume human interaction, influence and control, none of which is intelligible without some explanatory model of behavioural explanation.

Note : I don't reduce human beings to their behaviour but the need to explain behaviour indicates a place for explanation in philosophy.

Some philosophers draw a distinction between explanation (Erklären) and understanding (Verstehen) in respect of human behaviour : I here use 'explanation' in a broad sense to cover both.


Whether philosophers like it or not, the idea of explanation is one widely used in science and everyday life, in history and literary criticism and virtually across the piece. As such it is a major concept of just the sort that philosophy explores. If explanation centres on how things happen, or don't happen !, it can take a variety of forms. It can be deductive; it can subsume particulars under universals, events or states of affairs under laws or lawlike generalisations and so on and on. Philosophy does not choose the concepts it explores; major concepts are among the data on which philosophy has to work - constructively, critically or destructively.

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