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Paper Topic:

Covering law model of explanation

1 . What is the `covering law ' model of explanation

Carl Hempel 's covering law ' model of explanation states essentially that an explanation for an event can be drawn from a set of general laws or , in the case of the social sciences , universal hypotheses . Hempel claims the study of history is not generally associated with the search for general laws governing historical events . However , history is a discipline within which the theory of covering law ' - with some slight modifications - can function

Hempel 's model is one of deductive reasoning in which

two sets of information are paired to develop a hypothesis : one set includes all the facts of an event (time , place , actions , etc ) while the second includes applicable empirical laws (laws governing the variables in situations similar to those in the first set . Hempel claims that the covering law ' is relevant to social sciences because , like in the natural sciences , because both have similar strengths and weaknesses with regard to their ability , or lack of ability , to grasp the unique individuality ' of their objects

Hempel is adamant about the use of empirical laws , and cautions especially in the social sciences , against using romantic ideals such as destiny ' and mission in history ' in place of scientific explanations . To determine the suitability of an explanation , Hempel states that the explanation must satisfactorily pass a series of tests These tests include empirical tests of the sentences which state the determining conditions ' and the universal hypotheses on which the explanation rests ' in addition to an investigation of whether the explanation is logically conclusive in the sense that the sentence describing the events to be explained follows the statements ' of the two sets of information (45


Hempel , Carl . The Function of General Laws in History

2 . Is the model applicable to the study of human phenomena

While Carl Hempel asserts that his covering law ' model of explanation is applicable to social sciences , the reality of this claim is called into question by several other authors

F . A . Hayek 's initial criticism of Hempel 's model is that is can only serve a reactionary function , because it relies on the identification of patterns to initiate inquiry . Thus , predicting outcomes is nearly impossible without first being able to recognize problems and all relevant variables . In the case of history the model might have some limited use , but only when both the causes and effects have already been identified . Even in the case of history then the applicability of the covering law ' model is limited by the mind 's ability to locate patterns

This would not be such an insurmountable challenge if the patterns were themselves easily discernable . Indeed , the principle fault Hayek finds with the covering law ' model is that while it can be applied to social sciences theoretically , it is unable to cope with the complexity of issues and variables inherent in the more complex phenomena of life , mind , and of society ' Hayek determines a patterns level of complexity by seeking the minimum...

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