Review of Explanation and Understanding in the Human Sciences by Gurpreet Mahajan Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992. Pp. 124

Mullen, Edward Joseph

Gurpreet Mahajan
critically analyzes explanation and understanding in the social sciences. Her
approach is consistent with those who have historically argued for a human
science with methods distinct from those of the natural sciences. Four approaches
to scientific explanation and understanding in the social sciences are
examined. The mode associated with logical positivism, causale xplanationi,s
reviewed and found to be insufficient for the social sciences. The second
approach, reason-actioenx planationi,s among the oldest forms of explanation.
Agreeing with common sense, it is the notion that the explanation for a human
action is the reason given by the agent. Hermeneutiucn derstandinga,s originally
formulated by Dilthey and subsequently proposed by Hans-Georg Gadamer
and Paul Ricoeur, is contrasted with causal explanation as well as reasonaction
explanation. Following W. B. Gallie, Arthur C. Danto, and William
Dray, the narrative mode is discussed last. While there are several versions of
the narrative mode, Dray has proposed that an event is explained when one
can "trace the course of events by which it came about." Mahajan presents
each of these four modes as framing the object of inquiry differently and
asking qualitatively different questions. After an analysis of each of these four
modes, Mahajan, taking a relativistic stance, concludes, "Since there is no
theoretical grid from which we can view the world in itself and write its history,
we must allow points of view that offer new insights and uncover different
aspects of reality some space to exist" (p. 101).



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