When an explanation is actually an argument

Addenda 09/18/04 (see post on 09/17/04): O.K. Thinking more about this. It seems that it is important to distinguish between an explanandum (the thing being explained) that is false and one that is unknown. If it is unknown the explanation can be constructed entirely in the hypothetical. If it is false it is not an explanation. But, if the explanandum is unknown then our explanation seems collapse into an argument. If in any explanation the explanandum is more known than the explanans, then to explain something unknown to be true by facts presumably known to be true (or supported with reasons) makes the explanation into an argument. So Krauthammer is either offering no explanation or an argument.

Here’s a parallel construction.

If game seven of the world series were held today, the Cubs would win by 7-10 runs. Why? Because. . ..

This claim is probably false, but imagine that it is unknown. My explanation for it would in fact be an argument since it would provide reasons to believe that the Cubs would win by 7-10 runs.

So perhaps, I should have evaluated Krauthammer’s piece as an argument that Kerry would lose by 88-120 electoral votes. If that’s the conclusion then I may have been too charitable here, since there seems little reason to believe that Kerry’s flip-floppery can in any way predict the number of states that will go to Bush, or even predict the outcome of the election. If Kerry loses the election it will probably be for a host of reasons from voter turn-out, to events in Iraq, to the economy, to the debates. Historians will debate the electoral outcomes for a long time.

Nonetheless, whether premise 1 below is true or false is a question that does not concern us here. Assuming that these premises are true, and if we narrow Krauthammer’s conclusion to the claim George Bush will win the election (with the specificity of his electoral prediction undestood as hand-waving), then the conclusion would seem to follow.

  1. The election will be decided on the relative credibility of the candidates’ Iraq policy
  2. Flip-floppery on Iraq has made Kerry uncredible on this question
  3. President Bush has credibility on this questions.
  4. Therefore, President Bush will win the election.

Once again, however, the argument will be seen to rest on the accusation of flip-floppery and the claim that this makes Kerry uncredible on Iraq. We will have to return to the arguments presented on this point at later time.

And on the subject of polling and its reliability, see the recent scandal with Gallup polls. In a nutshell, Gallup has been predicting a 40% turnout of registered Republicans and a 33% turnout of registered Democrats in its polls. Without knowing the reasons for this, it is hard to evaluate it, but at the least, it should give pause to anyone who thinks that polling is somehow an objective measure of reality, rather than a construction of that reality.