How is the Ideal Gas Law Explanatory?

Woody, Andrea I. “How is the Ideal Gas Law Explanatory?” Science & Education 22 (2013): 1563-1580.

Using the ideal gas law as a comparative example, this essay reviews contemporary research in philosophy of science concerning scientific explanation. It outlines the inferential, causal, unification, and erotetic conceptions of explanation and discusses an alternative project, the functional perspective. In each case, the aim is to highlight insights from these investigations that are salient for pedagogical concerns. Perhaps most importantly, this essay argues that science teachers should be mindful of the normative and prescriptive components of explanatory discourse both in the classroom and in science more generally. Giving attention to this dimension of explanation not only will do justice to the nature of explanatory activity in science but also will support the development of robust reasoning skills in science students while helping them understand an important respect in which science is more than a straightforward collection of empirical facts, and consequently, science education involves more than simply learning them.

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