On Explanatory Progress
STUDENT: In the meanwhile, let me say a few more words about the normative side of this philosophical account of explanation—unless you think that we have exhausted the subject?
PHILIP: No, the normative dimension is probably the most important one. I particularly used to like Peter Railton’s notion of an ‘ideal explanatory text’.66
STUDENT: But this is an attempt to establish an eternal standard for judging the quality of explanations. It is so far away from the real-world explanatory practices that is in the end useless!
PHILIP: First of all, ideals need not be useful to be valuable. Further, you can never proceed to the formulation of normative judgments without some kind of an ideal.
STUDENT: You are right, of course, with respect to your first point. Regarding your second point, I would only partly agree: normative guidance is required for any kind of activity and also for explanatory activity. Such guidance can, but need not invoke eternal ideals and even less so single ideals....