Explanation and Justification: Understanding the Functions of Fact-Insensitive Principles


  • Kyle Johannsen The Department of Philosophy Queen's University




G.A. Cohen, fact-insensitive principles, feasibility, explanation, justification


In recent work, Andrew T. Forcehimes and Robert B. Talisse correctly note that G.A. Cohen’s fact-insensitivity thesis, properly understood, is explanatory.  This observation raises an important concern.  If fact-insensitive principles are explanatory, then what role can they play in normative deliberations?  The purpose of my paper is, in part, to address this question.  Following David Miller, I indicate that on a charitable understanding of Cohen’s thesis, an explanatory principle explains a justificatory fact by completing an otherwise logically incomplete inference.  As a result, the explanatory role such a principle plays is inseparable from its status as a (not necessarily successful) justificatory reason.  With this interpretation in hand, I then proceed to argue that Lea Ypi’s and Robert Jubb’s recent criticisms fail to undermine Cohen’s thesis, and that fact-insensitive principles, once discovered, are especially helpful for purposes of deliberation in circumstances characterized by changing and changeable feasibility constraints.

Author Biography

Kyle Johannsen, The Department of Philosophy Queen's University

Kyle Johannsen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Queen's University, Canada. He is primarily interested in social and political philosophy, especially distributive justice, but he also has interests in applied ethis, especially animal ethics. He has published in AJOB Neuroscience, Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review, and Social Philosophy Today