Semantics and Pragmatics for Why-Questions

  • Jaakko Hintikka
  • Ilpo Halonen
Part of the Jaakko Hintikka Selected Papers book series (HISP, volume 5)


The importance of the study of why-questions should be obvious. An answer to a question of the form ‘Why X?’ is closely related to an explanation of the fact that X. Hence a satisfactory theory of why-questions can be expected to be the core of any satisfactory theory of explanation. Such a theory is a tall order, to judge from the frustrations of philosophers of science who have tried to develop one.1 A case of point is the wealth of counterexamples and other criticisms that have been raised against Carl G. Hempel’s2 covering-law model of explanation, in spite of its being in many ways a natural and tempting one.


Scientific Discovery Epistemic Logic Ultimate Conclusion Logical Positivist Principal Question 
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  1. 1.
    A recent volume in the philosophy of science is entitled Inference, Explanation, and Other Frustrations, John Earman, ed. (Berkeley: California UP, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Free Press, 1965), pt. IV.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hintikka, The Principles of Mathematics Revisited (New York: Cambridge, forthcoming), chs. 3–4.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for example, Hintikka, “The Concept of Induction in the Light of the Interrogative Approach to Inquiry,” in Earman, pp. 23–43.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    An example of a logical treatment of why-questions exemplifying these characteristics is Antti Koura, “An Approach to Why-questions,” Synthese, LXXIV (1988): 191–206.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    De Sophistici Elenchi 173a32—On Sophistical Refutations, E.S. Forster, trans. (Cambridge: Harvard, 1955).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See, for example, Hintikka, “The Fallacy of Fallacies,” Argumentation, I (1987): 221–38;Google Scholar
  8. 7a.
    Richard Robinson, “Begging the Question, 1971,” Analysis, XXXI, 4 (1971): 113–17.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    “What We Don’t Know When We Don’t Know Why?” in his On What We Know We Don’t Know: Explanation, Theory, Linguistics, and How Questions Shape Them (Chicago: University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Cf. footnote 4.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    See here Hintikka, “Theory-ladenness of Observations as a Test Case of Kuhn’s Approach to Scientific Inquiry,” in David Hull et alia, eds., Philosophy of Science Association 1992 (East Lansing, MI: PSA, 1992), pp. 277–86.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    “Three Uses of the Herbrand-Gentzen Theorem in Relating Model Theory and Proof Theory,” Journal of Symbolic Logic, XXII (1957): 269–85.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cf. our “Toward a Theory of the Process of Explanation.”Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    “An Effective Interpolation Theorem for First-order Logic” (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    This result presupposes merely that the proof in question is in a normal form (cut-free form) that satisfies the subformula property.Google Scholar
  16. 1.
    In an unpublished work circulated in 1974; see also Bas C. van Fraassen, The Scientific Image (New York: Oxford, 1980).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jaakko Hintikka
    • 1
  • Ilpo Halonen
    • 2
  1. 1.Boston UniversityUSA
  2. 2.University of HelsinkiFinland

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