Partial Explanation in Philosophy




Oakley, Alec

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We sometimes wish to explain something partially, or say what something is in part. My having knowledge can be partially explained by my having a true belief; but this does not wholly explain it. And part of what it is to be me is to be human; but this does not exhaust my identity. I construe these as examples of partial ground and partial essence, respectively. Ground and essence have seen a resurgence of interest in recent years. However, their partial counterparts remain underexplored. My project engages in an especially vital question; namely, whether each partial ground or essence must be part of some full ground or essence. If yes, then we partially explain knowledge in terms of true belief because there is a full explanation of knowledge, of which true belief is a part. Likewise, being human is a part of what it is to be me because there is a full, individuating identity of me, of which being human is a part. As it turns out, many debates regarding features ground and essence may have turn on this question. The project thus promises to contribute to these debates. Moreover, I hope the project will expose the depth to which the two notions are connected. The project also has direct import to philosophy more generally; if the account given of partial ground and essence is ultimately denied, the scope of philosophical inquiry is broadened accordingly: even in cases which do not permit of full explication, partial explanations may exist.



Philosophy, Explanation, Analysis, Ground, Essence, Mereology