Why the difference between explanation and argument matters to science education

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Contributing to the recent debate on whether or not explanations ought to be differentiated from arguments, this article argues that the distinction matters to science education. I articulate the distinction in terms of explanations and arguments having to meet different standards of adequacy. Standards of explanatory adequacy are important because they correspond to what counts as a good explanation in a science classroom, whereas a focus on evidence-based argumentation can obscure such standards of what makes an explanation explanatory. I provide further reasons for the relevance of not conflating explanations with arguments (and having standards of explanatory adequacy in view). First, what guides the adoption of the particular standards of explanatory adequacy that are relevant in a scientific case is the explanatory aim pursued in this context. Apart from explanatory aims being an important aspect of the nature of science, including explanatory aims in classroom instruction also promotes students seeing explanations as more than facts, and engages them in developing explanations as responses to interesting explanatory problems. Second, it is of relevance to science curricula that science aims at intervening in natural processes, not only for technological applications, but also as part of experimental discovery. Not any argument enables intervention in nature, as successful intervention specifically presupposes causal explanations. Students can fruitfully explore in the classroom how an explanatory account suggests different options for intervention.

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  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
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  • License
    © 2016 I. Brigandt et al. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Brigandt, I. (2016). Why the difference between explanation and argument matters to science education. Science & Education, 25(3), 251-275.
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