Explication, Description and Enlightenment


The philosophical method which Rudolf Carnap endorsed and called ‘explication’ has recently been defended and put to use by Patrick Maher. We recount the history of this method, and seek to show that P.F.Strawson’s objection to it (that it changes the subject) has not been answered, either by Carnap or by Maher. Thus the method is problematic in principle.

We then go on to show how these objections play out when the method is used in practice. We do this by critiquing Maher’s use of the method in his flagship example: his attempted explication of the concept of confirmation. (A very similar explication is endorsed by Paul Horwich). Here, we show that the method of explication is beset by several problems, yielding counterintuitive conclusions. We argue that Maher’s resulting Bayesian concept of confirmation has little to do with the concept of confirmation that scientists deploy, and that it is inferior to the more realistic concept of confirmation that has recently been defended by Severin Schroeder. We provide evidence that Maher’s explication is grounded in an inappropriately scientistic conception of philosophy, and we seek to cast doubt recent claims that the method of explication is the best or only road to philosophical enlightenment.