Helping Others to Understand: A Normative Account of the Speech Act of Explanation

Topoi 42 (2):385-396 (2023)
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Abstract

This paper offers a normative account of the speech act of explanation with understanding as its norm. The previous accounts of the speech act of explanation rely on the factive notion of understanding and maintain that proper explanations require knowledge. I argue, however, that such accounts are too demanding and do not reflect the everyday practice of explanation and the attribution of understanding. Instead, I argue that the non-factive, objectual attitude of understanding is sufficient for a proper explanation. On the normative level, explanations are governed by an audience-centred norm, i.e., they are sensitive to the epistemic position of the audience. According to the proposed account, an explanation is a communicative act in which one puts the audience in a position to understand the explained phenomenon. This proposal fits into the recent wave of applications of the normative account and makes space for the pluralism of illocutionary acts.

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Grzegorz Gaszczyk
University of Warsaw

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