Questions about the Relationship of Description and Explanation.
by David Fleischacker
One of the areas that I have found to need further articulation in Lonergan’s writings is that of the scope and the relationship of explanation and description. Description is rooted in an account of things in relationship to the human motor-sensory operations. How much of the universe can we discover through description? What are the types of patterns that can be discovered? How does description come to grasp unity-identity-wholes? Which types of unity-identity-wholes can be discovered by description?
Explanation in contrast is more comprehensive and its natural limit is proportionate being, though through analogy it contributes to explanatory accounts of Revelation. In general, via Lonergan’s articulation in INSIGHT, explanation deals with the relationships of things to each other.
Also, as one fills out the scope of description, what more precisely is the relationship between description and explanation, not just generically, but in a variety of fields. There are likely patterns that will be discovered. In INSIGHT, there is a generic account of the movement from description to explanation in the first chapter, via the account of explanatory definitions and then the move to implicit definitions. This is advance in chapter 8, the chapter on things. Things can be discovered and articulated in terms of descriptive and explanatory conjugates. More will be able to be said however through studies of interiority as various fields of study historically unfolded, such as in physics, chemistry, and biology.
The import on such an articulation of the relationship of description and explanation is twofold; on the one hand it will allow for a deeper grasp of the capacity of description to know being, on the other it will clarify the path that one must take to reach explanatory knowledge which liberates one more fully into the full scope of proportionate and analogical knowledge of being.