By S. Harris
What does it mean to explain something? To do it, you have to give some new information about it — how it works, how it came about, what it’s for, etc. To explain how a computer works, you might talk about, say, microchips or information processing — both explanations though different ones. To explain what a computer is, to someone who’d never seen one, you’d probably tell them what it does and what one looks like. These would also overlap with explaining where it came from (humans made them) and what it’s for.
Computers were made by people who more or less knew how they would work, and of course what they were for. If we’re explaining a natural phenomenon, or something done by a foreign people, we’ll have to find an explanation before we can give it. It will still have the same requirements: if we see something (say, that the sun radiates lots of energy), then we have to tell something new to explain what we see (that the sun is full of nuclear reactions).
What has been called the virtus dormitiva fallacy involves explaining something without really explaining anything. Continue reading