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Title: The historical roots of C.G. Hempel's D-N account of explanation : the protocol sentence debate and a candidate for philosophical methodology
Author: Steed, Sheldon
Awarding Body: London School of Economics and Political Science
Current Institution: London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London)
Date of Award: 2010
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C.G. Hempel's D-N account of explanation marks a cornerstone in the history of philosophy of science. Standard interpretations construe it as a naive, if noble, attempt to characterize scientific explanations: science locates laws at work in the world and facilitates explanations by indicating that the relevant circumstances fall under the cover of those laws - an idea these days appearing credulous at best. The present examination is motivated by a curiosity about whether there might be something more interesting to be said about the point of Hempel's account. This thesis thus considers the historical roots of Hempel's thought in the Vienna Circle protocol sentence debate of the 1930s. Certain principles inherent in that debate suggest a reading of the subsequently developed D-N account not as a naive scientistic approach, but as a conventionally adopted framework with which to clarify explanatory candidates in science. It argues Hempel was not after the 'right' account of explanation, but rather one which could be assessed for its merits based on how effectively it serves to clarify explanations. This thesis first examines the point of the protocol sentence debate, which was not over justifying, via logic, grounding all scientific knowledge in sensation. Rather, as empiricists, certain members of the Vienna Circle took the language of sensation as a conventional starting point for the construction of scientific language and argued over the form and status of the basic statements comprising that language. Second, it surveys dissenting criticism within the debate and Hempel's problematic defence of the left-wing view in the Circle. Third, it locates certain principles that came out of the debate and shaped the subsequent development of Hempel's D-N account. Finally it suggests a reformulation of the D-N account as a conventionally adopted framework for the assessment of explanations and indicates how it may be understood as a candidate for philosophical methodology.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available