On Explanations

There are two types of claim: descriptive and active.

Take the following claim: “Canada is a meritocratic country.”

This is an empirical claim. You can question and falsify this belief in many ways. You can check how much income mobility there is. You can see what the best predictors of success are – your family’s income? Or your IQ? All of these things help describe how accurately this belief describes the world. That’s what makes it a descriptive claim.

But the claim that “Canada is a meritocratic country” also has implications for action. In a meritocracy, the “best person for the job” should get the job. If you can do better than the current jobholder, then the job belongs to you. If the First Minister, fish monger, or fast food server is grossly incompetent, then it may be a call for you to replace them. You’re likely entitled to the job if you’re the best at it. And you should thus go do it. That’s what makes it an active claim.

The thesis of this post is that a good explanation is both descriptively and actively true. A good explanation is made up of multiple claims. If a claim is descriptively true, then it’s good because you know it has some connection to reality. If a claim is actively true, then it’s also good because it provides you with meaning and direction. An explanation which combines the two is what best sets you up for success. And I think it’s one which most people want to hear, too.

Published by efernandes

I blog now.

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