A splendid critical survey by a major player in the field, of great value to student and professional alike. It covers an enormous amount of ground, including some important unpublished material, and contains a near-comprehensive chronological bibliography. The writing is exceptionally clear and well organized.
As Aristotle stated, scientific explanation is based on deductive argument–yet, Wesley C. Salmon points out, not all deductive arguments are qualified explanations. The validity of the explanation must itself be examined. Four Decades of Scientific Explanation provides a comprehensive account of the developments in scientific explanation that transpired in the last four decades of the twentieth century. It continues to stand as the most comprehensive treatment of the writings on the subject during these years. Building on the historic 1948 essay by Carl G. Hempel and Paul Oppenheim, “Studies in the Logic of Explanation,” which introduced the deductive-nomological (D-N) model on which most work on scientific explanation was based for the following four decades, Salmon goes beyond this model's inherent basis of describing empirical knowledge to tells us “not only what, but also why.” Salmon examines the predominant models in chronological order and describes their development, refinement, and criticism or rejection. Four Decades of Scientific Explanation underscores the need for a consensus of approach and ongoing evaluations of methodology in scientific explanation, with the goal of providing a better understanding of natural phenomena.
Essential reading for any serious student of scientific explanation.
Salmon's book is a masterpiece of lucidity, written by a philosopher whose professional career to date coincides almost exactly with the four decades of the title, and who himself has been the central figure in the last two decades. Every philosopher should have a copy of this book on his or her bookshelf.
Wesley C. Salmon (1925–2001) was University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, past president of the Philosophy of Science Association, and the author of numerous books, including Four Decades of Scientific Explanation; Space, Time, and Motion: A Philosophical Introduction; and Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World.