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  An explanation of a phenomenon accounts for it, making it intelligible. Thus an explanation of an event tells us why it occurred, and an explanation of a law of nature tells us why it obtains.

According to the covering law model of explanations in philosophy, phenomena are explained by subsuming them under a general law, and perhaps by mentioning certain initial conditions. One explains a law of nature by subsuming it under more general laws of nature. Kepler\'s laws of planetary motion are explained by Newton\'s more general laws of mechanics. And one explains the occurrence of an event by reference to a general law and certain initial conditions: the falling of the glass is explained by the laws of gravity and my letting go of it at a height.

The covering law model faces various objections. One is as follows. It is not sufficient for explaining a phenomenon that one subsumes it under a general law linking it with an initial condition which did in fact obtain. So, for example, it is a law of nature that men who do take birth control pills do not get pregnant; however, if a man did take birth control pills this is hardly the correct explanation of him not becoming pregnant. AJ

Further reading C. Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation; , E. Nagel, The Structure of Science.



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