The Epistemic and Ontic Conceptions of Scientific Explanation

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Virginia Tech

While Wesley Salmon attributes the debate on scientific explanation between Carl Hempel and Peter Railton (or between the epistemic and ontic conceptions of scientific explanation, more generally) as one over which conception of explanation is correct, I claim that Hempel and Railton were responding to two different questions altogether. Hempel was addressing a question akin to 'what is scientific explanation?', while Railton was focused on a question more similar to 'what is scientific explanation?' In this paper I discuss the different questions Hempel and Railton were addressing, and how distinguishing these two questions can aid in the discussion of the requirements and adequacy of models of scientific explanation. While these two questions are clearly inter-related, I claim that we should not judge the adequacy of an answer to one of these questions on the basis of the adequacy of an answer to the other.

Philosophy of Science, Explanation, Ontic Explanation, Epistemic Explanation