Philosophy 167: Class 9 - Part 4 - A Hypothetico-Explanatory Approach to Theorizing: Descartes' Method of Constructing Theoretically and Empirically Sound Explanations.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: Descartes keeps his theories firmly linked to the observable, empirical effects, unlike Galileo.

    Opening line: "There's an approach to theorizing here that's probably worth looking at, and it's my summary of it."

    Duration: 3:37 minutes.

    Segment: Class 9, Part 4.
This object is in collection Subject Genre Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
view transcript only

There's an approach to theorizing here that's probably worth looking at, and it's my summary of it. To impose constraints on all explanation, and I put explanation in scare quotes because it's really explication, on answers to why and how questions. Put constrains on that to appoint that, observe phenomenon, restrict the range of candid answers to such questions.
Instead of having all possible answers, we've got only a handful. It's gotta be by contact, something's gotta be touching the planets to the point that a demand that the factors invoked in any answer to one such question simultaneously yield answers to a wide range of further questions. Suffices to single out one answer at least in broad outlet.
So put constraints, now, observe phenomenon to restrict the range of candided answers, and now choose that candided answer that explains or explicates simultaneously a whole bunch of other things. And now I look at that and say that's not too far from what I do as a failure analyst.
Okay, I try to impose constraints because I don't want crazy things. My constraints are coming out of my past experience on failures and what I think can actually, physically happen, but etcetera. Further comments here, this is not hypothetical deductive. We're not putting forward a hypothesis and testing it, number one.
Number two, and this is really important, Descartes is invoking empirical considerations throughout. Hear that again before I go on. This is not his sitting back in an armchair and making up a story, he has constraints and from there on he's using the observable world to fashion a story demanding that the story do everything.
Okay so it's empirically driven, looked at empirically at every stage, it's just not details. It's looking at a gross picture, and he's not comparing them with empirical claims deduced from his hypothesis in order to test these hypotheses. I don't know what to call it, I call it here, just to throw out a phrase, it's a hypothetical explanatory approach.
I don't know that I've described it adequately, but I'm at least giving you a picture. I think it's obviously significantly different from Galileo. It's probably fairly significantly different from most things other than Aristotle, which of course Descarte did think he was in the process of replacing. As I say in the notes, I don't say this very often in class, Descarte's picture was, Aristotle had the right idea of what had to be done, he just took the wrong approach.
So if we replace him with the same comprehensiveness that covers everything. Remember Aristotle had generation of animals, the behavior of animals, the nature of the mind, physics, meteorology, I won't go on, on the skies, etcetera. Aristotle covered everything, Descarte was gonna do the same thing, cover everything but do it right this time which meant don't substitute verbal explanations that are pseudo-explanations.
For real explanations, what are real explanations? Ones by contact.