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An explanation is a communicative act with two different meanings:

  • In common linguistic usage and in the sciences , an explanation is an attempt to make the causes of an observed state of affairs understandable through the linguistic exposition of its logical and causal relationships. In this sense, a scientific explanation is the most important form of justification in the philosophy of science , namely the logical derivation of a factual assertion from a scientific law as well as the assumed situation under which the same law works.
  • In political and legal contexts, a declaration is an official communication to clarify the background of a particular topic and to present it to the public.


The explanation occurs in many subject areas . In everyday language usage , the explanation is limited to explaining the meaning of a word, process or state or simply represents a justification or accountability for a certain action , tolerance or omission .

In the sciences , an explanation is the attempt to make the causes of an observed state of affairs understandable through the linguistic exposition of its logical and causal relationships . In this sense, a scientific explanation is the most important form of justification in the theory of science , namely the logical derivation of a factual assertion from a scientific law as well as the assumed assumptions under which this law applies. A theory is used to explain facts ( retro-prognosis ) and also to predict ( prognosis ) how these facts will affect in the future. A scientific explanation can also be exhausted in the form of the definition , while philosophers or literary scholars explain texts through text interpretation .

Etymology and conceptual boundaries

The word explanation goes back to the "erclerung" that first appeared in Magdeburg in 1484, and in 1542 it was used for the first time in today's spelling.

Opposite statement , allegation and proof is the concept statement does not clearly delineate:

  • The term “ statement” directs the perspective to the content , the meaningfulness of a sentence.
  • The term assertion focuses more on the speaker who has an interest in making a certain statement - one can therefore speak of a willful, hasty, well-founded, misleading or hypothetical claim. In the case of allegations, the question arises as to what value the speaker claims to have given them as supposedly true statements.
  • A proof should be as short, precise and compelling as possible - there is a good chance that the compelling proof needs a detailed explanation in order to be understandable .

The term explanation , on the other hand, focuses on the addressee, i.e. on the person to whom something is to be explained.

An explanation “convinces”, it “makes sense”, it can also be “unsatisfactory” or “disappointing”. The addressee can “accept” an explanation as an excuse for behavior that he found hurtful, or come to the conclusion that he will “not come to terms” with it, hoping for a more sincere, honest explanation. One speaks of a "child-friendly explanation" if the explanation is based on the understanding of a child. One gives a phenomenon a “natural explanation” if one stays in the area of ​​scientifically ascertainable processes. One can, which characterizes the orientation of the word towards the addressee, speak of a “sensitive explanation” - but not of a “sensitive assertion” or a “sensitive proof”. The definition of the word is difficult, as the satisfaction of the addressee is an elusive factor at play.


The explanation is made up of the explanandum (that which is to be explained), i.e. a state of affairs that is to be explained, and its explanans (the explanation), i.e. what serves the explanation. So the real explanation is the explanans. An explanation is always based on a specifically described phenomenon, the explanandum. An explanation is sought for this, the causalities found form the explanans; these are causal explanations . Explanations by reference to the cause of the explanandum, i.e. causal explanations, correspond to the normal and mostly used term of explanation. Functional explanations , on the other hand, are explanations that do not make their explanandum understandable by bringing up any causes that lead to the explanandum in question. Rather, functional explanations express the need for a property for a functional relationship to occur. While the functional explanation concludes from a connection to the meaning of an influencing phenomenon ( deduction ), the causal explanation clarifies the effect emanating from a cause ( induction ).

The imperfect explanations several types can be distinguished. For example, there are imprecise explanations when the terms used in an explanation are vague or ambiguous. One speaks of a rudimentary explanation when the antecedent conditions ( boundary conditions ) are only incompletely known and the necessary laws are not explicitly mentioned, but tacitly assumed. With a partial explanation, the explanans is not enough to explain the explanandum in all its aspects. In the case of an explanatory sketch, the explanans is only available in a vague outline and more or less indistinct information on how the sketch could be completed to an explanation.

A pseudo-explanation is used when the linguistic form merely pretends to be a scientific explanation, but there are fundamental errors in the logic of the explanation, such as the use of a hidden tautology , a logical circle or a theoretical construct that is not measured independently of the explanandum becomes. The plausible explanation is one that the recipient can understand.

Scientific explanation

In his Logic of Research (Chapter III, Paragraph 12), Karl Popper defines "causally explaining a process" as follows: "deductively deriving a proposition that claims it from laws and boundary conditions". The corresponding deductive-nomological or “hypothetical-deductive” model of the explanation was comprehensively worked out by Carl Gustav Hempel and Paul Oppenheim .

The Hempel-Oppenheim model (HO model, also deductive nomological model , DN model ) of the scientific explanation has not yet been replaced by another despite numerous criticisms and is still used for orientation.

The focus of a scientific explanation is therefore laws or legal statements. According to the HO model, two classes of empirically substantial statements must be used for an explanation. On the one hand, there are the boundary conditions (also called antecedent conditions ), which are given before or at the same time as the phenomenon to be explained, and legal hypotheses. Both classes of statements together are called the explanans (the explanatory). A scientific explanation then consists of the logical derivation of the factual assertion describing the phenomenon (= explanandum , that which is to be explained) from the explanans. It is important to note here that the legal statements do not necessarily have to describe deterministic laws, but can also include statistical laws. The explanations are called deductive-nomological or statistical-inductive , depending on the circumstances .

Explanations found that correspond to the HO model can in principle always be used to forecast future events. In this sense, one speaks of the equivalence of the logical structure of explanations according to the HO model and scientific prognoses. However, for forecasting purposes one can also assume empirical generalizations or correlations without having precise knowledge of the real causal legal relationships.

Jon Elster criticizes the HO model because it does not allow a distinction to be made between causal statements and mere correlations, and it does not make any statements about whether further causal relationships influence the one under consideration or even prevent it from having an effect. Following Paul Veyne , he therefore prefers to focus more on finding out and always better understanding causal mechanisms than on improving theories.

Causal explanation

The causal explanation is still considered to be the most scientific kind of explanation. It is important to emphasize that according to this, the term “causal” only refers to a logical derivation , namely to the logical derivation of the set of regularities and initial conditions that describes the process to be explained. The causal explanation thus corresponds directly to the HO model.

Because of the importance of the causal explanation and the HO model, the question of the traceability of other types of explanation discussed in the philosophy of science to the HO model arises . The question of the importance of legal hypotheses in other types of explanation is of particular interest.

Dispositional declaration

One speaks of a dispositional or dispositional explanation when the behavior of an object is explained with the aid of a disposition which is ascribed to this object. While general laws are used in the causal explanation, in which no individual object occurs, in the dispositional explanation law-like statements are used in which a certain individual object is mentioned. The dispositional explanation also plays an important role in the explanation of human action, if this is to be explained, for example, by the character of the person acting.

Genetic explanation

One speaks of a genetic explanation when the explanation of a fact consists of several stages, which can be combined into a chain of explanation, the end link of which is the fact to be explained. An example of a (causal) genetic explanation is an n -level explanation chain in which the antecedent of the n -th level is identical to the explanandum of the ( n-1 ) -th level (each individual level corresponds to the HO model) . In general, however, the structure of genetic explanations is more complicated, since the antecedent of later stages usually contains additional antecedent conditions in addition to the explanandum of the previous stage. The genetic explanation can be divided into historical-genetic and systematic-genetic explanations, with the causal-genetic being a special case of the latter.

Intentional explanation

According to the hermeneutics , in the sciences that want to explain human behavior (e.g. sociology , historical sciences ), a fundamentally different method of explanation comes into consideration than in the natural sciences . This view is justified by the fact that one is dealing here with singular, unrepeatable events , thus different from the natural sciences, where the “general” should be explained. Furthermore, in these areas, instead of an explanation with causal laws, an explanation with motives, intentions, goals, will, etc. is possible, which has a teleological character.

This view is heavily criticized and rejected, especially from the ranks of analytic philosophy . Here it is argued that singular, non-repeatable events are also considered and explained in the natural sciences, such as certain unique events within our solar system. Conversely, explanations in the human sciences always have a general component, since no individual single event can really be fully described, and thus a logical differentiation between the modes of explanation in the two areas of science is impossible on this basis. According to this criticism, an explanation about motives, intentions, etc. is at best teleological in a “harmless way” that is compatible with a causal explanation based on motives . The motive is already present in a person before the goal is achieved, and causally determine, among other things, the event of goal attainment through the person's action. Teleology would correspond. The fact that laws are often not used in explanations in the human sciences is based on the fact that these are often not mentioned explicitly, but only implicitly assumed.

The special position of the human sciences is justified with the argument that a special method would be available in this area: the method of understanding . This is based on the assumption that the mental processes in other people are sufficiently similar to your own. In contrast to the natural sciences, where the events are only accessible “from outside”, in the human sciences one can draw analogy conclusions through the inner access to one's own soul world, which provide explanatory motives for the actions of other people. This view was held by a number of important figures such as Max Weber . The criticism here is that in everyday life, even with people who live in the same cultural and social environment, we often make mistakes when assessing the motives. Therefore, this method is at best a heuristic method for finding hypotheses whose correctness is by no means proven, so that this method does not provide an argumentative explanation for a fact either. As in the natural sciences, a hypothesis obtained in this way must be checked using empirical data.

In addition to these disputes, there are also approaches. Georg Henrik von Wright has developed a formally precise intentionalist explanatory scheme (IE), which represents a modification of the practical syllogism and in which he sees a counter-model to the causal HO model in the field of human sciences. Raimo Tuomelas has shown that this IE scheme only leads to an argumentative explanation if an empirical law of a certain type ( Ducasse theorem ) is included under the premises , which means that it can be subsumed under the causal HO model. However, Georg Henrik von Wright's scheme can also be interpreted as a non-argumentative explanation. I.e. the term “explanation” is expanded in such a way that, in addition to explanatory arguments in the form of a logical derivation of the event to be explained from the premises, intentionalist in-depth analyzes are also permitted. These ask, for example, about the motive of the acting people, but do not aim to logically derive the event resulting from the action. In the historical sciences, for example, one and the same event could then be explained in parallel in two ways; according to the causal HO model and according to the intentionalist explanatory scheme.

Deviations from the ideal model

The scientific explanation is an ideal model that cannot be achieved in practice. For example, for a total explanation of a physical phenomenon, i.e. an explanation that leaves nothing unexplained and explains the phenomenon to be explained in detail, the entire state of the universe at a certain point in time would have to be known (and self-explained) as a boundary condition, which is impossible. Even the weakened form of the completed explanation, which only fulfills the first condition that nothing remains unexplained, is not possible. Some antecedent conditions must always remain unexplained; a demand for an explanation of all antecedent conditions leads to an infinite recourse . In practice, therefore, there are only imperfect explanations , which does not mean that their assumption cannot be justified. Incomplete explanations can be well checked by empirical data and thus receive good confirmation.

Analogy models

Analogy models are a strongly weakened modern variant of the view, which today is regarded as untenable but which was often held in the past, that a scientific explanation can also be given solely by tracing back to known and familiar or analogies. This outdated view is no longer represented today on the one hand because of its subjectivity (what is “familiar” differs from individual to individual), on the other hand it is the self-understanding of today's science to question what is apparently known and familiar. Even the modern variant does not provide an independent explanation. The problem here is that the isomorphism between two different areas assumed in the analogy model can only actually be accepted if the laws of both areas are known; so in retrospect. If these laws are known, however, a causal explanation can be given according to the HO model, and the analogy model is no longer necessary.


There are explanations in many areas of law , in particular in civil law or civil procedure law .

civil right

In civil law, the declaration is an expression of will. The subjective will inherent in a legal subject must be explained by making it recognizable to other legal subjects through a declaration of will. The inner will and the expression of this will must match. The subjective fact includes the willingness to act , the awareness of the explanation and the business will of the person making the declaration . In the case of the will to act, the declaring person is aware of making an expression of will. The awareness of the declaration includes the willingness of the declaring party to make a legally significant declaration that can trigger a legal consequence . The willingness to do business presupposes the declaring person's awareness of wanting to conclude a specific deal . If one of these essentialia negotii is missing, a lack of will is recognized in favor of the declaring party under the conditions of § 116 ff. BGB . The legal term declaration is used synonymously in the BGB for declaration of intent (e.g. Section 119 (1) BGB). Their objective facts include the alienation of this will in oral or written form or by conclusive action . A certain form such as the written form is only provided as an exception. It may even be sufficient that what is wanted is expressed through a tacit declaration of will .

Civil procedural law

According to § 129a ZPO may in civil procedure requests and observations to the office of each district court to protocol are delivered. The parties have to make their statements about factual circumstances completely and truthfully ( § 138 ZPO ), whereby each party has to explain the facts alleged by the opponent.

Explanation as a word component

The explanation also occurs as a word component of compositions . The error of explanation is a lack of will, in which the external statement of facts deviates from the (internal) will of the person making the declaration. In the tax return to be submitted by the taxpayer ( Section 33 AO ), the information must be provided truthfully to the best of our knowledge and belief ( Section 150 (2) AO). With the declaration of nullity , a court usually determines the invalidity of a document on the basis of a previous public notice procedure§ 467 ff. FamFG ) ; the certificate is declared invalid in the exclusion resolution ( § 478 FamFG).


In political contexts, a statement is an official communication from politicians or press spokespersons to clarify or explain the background to a particular topic and present it to the public . This includes, for example, the government declaration that the head of government makes at the beginning of his term of office or on certain occasions. It represents a central management tool vis-à-vis the party , parliamentary group and the public and can also be used to account for government work. It is not mentioned in Germany in the Basic Law, but can materially from the policy-making power of the Chancellor under Art. 65 are taken GG, formally from Art. 43 2 of the Basic Law.. Konrad Adenauer made the first government declaration of this kind on September 20, 1949.

Internationally, declarations can also develop binding international law , such as the declaration of human and civil rights , the Turku declaration on minimum humanitarian standards or the declaration on the elimination of violence against women .

See also

Many declarations effective under international law are named after cities:


  • Richard Bevan Braithwaite, Scientific Explanation , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.
  • Andreas Dorschel , 'On the Critique of the Totalizing Explanation Program', in: Vierteljahresschrift Theologie und Philosophie LXIII (1988), No. 3, pp. 384–395
  • Wolfgang Stegmüller: Problems and results of the philosophy of science and analytical philosophy. Volume I ( Scientific explanation and justification. ) Springer Verlag.
  • Oswald Schwemmer: Explanation , in: Mittelstraß (Hrsg.), Enzyklopädie Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie, 2nd edition [2005], pp. 381–387 (with 2 columns lit. directory)

Web links

Wiktionary: Explanation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Keyword explanation . In: duden.de, accessed on November 7, 2014.
  2. Keyword explanation . In: Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon online, accessed on November 7, 2014.
  3. Wolfgang Stegmüller: Scientific explanation and justification. Problems and results of the philosophy of science and analytical philosophy, I. Berlin Heidelberg New York 1969. pp. 171 f., 136 f., 768 ff. Quoted from: Hans Lenk: Philosophy in the technical age. W. Kohlhammer Stuttgart Berlin Cologne Mainz 1971. p. 96
  4. Wolfgang Stegmüller, The ABC of modern logic and semantics: The concept of explanation and its varieties , 1969, p. 73
  5. Keyword explanation in: Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon online, accessed on November 7, 2014
  6. Wolfgang Stegmüller, Scientific explanation and justification. Problems and results of the philosophy of science and analytical philosophy I , 1969, pp. 171 f., 136 f., 768 ff .; quoted based on: Hans Lenk, Philosophy in the Technical Age , 1971. p. 96
  7. Rainer Busch / Rudolf Dögl / Fritz Unger, Integrated Marketing , 1995, p 38
  8. Wolfgang Stegmüller, The ABC of modern logic and semantics: The concept of explanation and its varieties , 1969, p. 73
  9. Prussian Academy of Sciences (Ed.), German Legal Dictionary , Volume III, 1935, Sp. 222
  10. Marco Iorio, Karl Marx - Geschichte, Gesellschaft, Politik , 2003, p. 126
  11. Marco Iorio, Karl Marx - Geschichte, Gesellschaft, Politik , 2003, p. 150
  12. Gerhard Schlosser, Unity of the World and Unified Science , 1993, p. 218
  13. Martin Elbe, Wissen und Methode , 2002, p. 48
  14. ^ Karl R. Popper, Logic of Research , Tübingen 8. verb. u. probably edition 1984; see. on this Alan E. Musgrave, Explanation, Description and Scientific Realism , in: Herbert Keuth, (Ed.), Logic of Research , Akademie Verlag Berlin 1998. ISBN 3-05-003021-6 .
  15. ^ First in: Carl Gustav Hempel, Studies in the Logic of Explanation , Philosophy of Science, 15 (1948), pp. 135-175. More fully presented in: Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science. Free Press, 1968
  16. ^ Jon Elster, Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York / Port Chester / Melbourne / Sydney, 1989, ISBN 0-521-37606-8 . P. 6 f.
  17. ^ Jon Elster, Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York / Port Chester / Melbourne / Sydney, 1989, ISBN 0-521-37606-8 . 173./ Paul Veyne, Writing History (Middletown, Conn .: Wesleyan University Press, 1984).
  18. On an early theory of dispositional properties, see R. Carnap, Testability and Meaning , in: Philosophy of Science 3 (1936), pp. 419–471, here pp. 440 ff .; on an application to explanations of behavior Gilbert Ryle , The Concept of Mind , London 1949, p. 81 ff .; on an elaboration and critical discussion of dispositional explanations Carl Gustav Hempel , Dispositional Explanation , in: Tuomela Raimo (Ed.): Dispositions , Dordrecht 1978, pp. 137–146; in addition z. B. Wolfgang Stegmüller, Problems and Results of the Theory of Science and Analytical Philosophy, Volume I, 1969, pp. 120 ff .; Ansgar Beckermann , Analytical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind , de Gruyter 2nd edition, 2001, p. 83 ff.
  19. ^ Georg Henrik von Wright, Explanation and Understanding , London, 1971
  20. Raimo Tuomelas, human action and its explanation , Dordrecht, 1977
  21. Wolfgang Stegmüller, Problems and Results of the Philosophy of Science and Analytical Philosophy. Scientific explanation and justification , study edition Volume I, Part c, Appendix 7, Springer Verlag, 1969
  22. Gerhard Vollmer , Biophilosophie , 1st edition, Reclam, Stuttgart, 1995, pp. 41, 67, 110, 111, 114–116
  23. Carl Creifelds , Creifelds legal dictionary , 2000, col. 1578
  24. Friedrich Schade, Private Business Law , 2009, p. 27
  25. Klaus Stüwe, The Great Government Declarations of the German Chancellors from Adenauer to Schröder , 2002, p. 10