On explanation

Andrew Chesterman

University of Helsinki, Finland


[2008. In Anthony Pym et al (eds), Beyond Descriptive Studies. Investigations in homage to Gideon Toury. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 363-379.]



Conducting research on a ‘wish-to-understand’ basis”

Gideon Toury (2006: 55)

As Descriptive Translation Studies expands its goals to include explanatory hypotheses in addition to descriptive ones, it has made use of different notions of explanation, all of which are relevant to Gideon Toury’s work. This essay analyses these different notions in the light of some work in the philosophy of science, beginning with the apparent contrast between explanation and understanding. It then focuses on explanation in terms of generalization, causality, and unification. The crucial concept underlying all these is that of a relation. This point of view also allows a characterization of what is meant by explanatory power, and shows how explanation can emerge from description.

Keywords: explanation, generalization, causality, unification