The nature of explanation is a fascinating topic of discovery and discussion. We often take the nature of explanation for granted because we simply accept it. But some discussions that I have had recently have really made me realize just how blind people have become to the factors that lie behind it.
Auguste Comte, as he was lining out his philosophy of positivism, rightly defined the three areas of explanation; however, in doing so he disparaged them by attaching them to ages of life. At the most immature level of explanation he placed theology. We might classify this level as who, or an explanation of agency. The juvenile level of explanation he classed as metaphysics, which answers the question of intention or why. The most mature level, according to Comte, is the material explanation, which answers the questions of what, where, when, and how.
Looking at Comte’s reasoning, which formed the basis of logical positivism and the roots of empiricism, he basically excluded 2/6ths of available explanation. When looked at as a whole, it doesn’t really look like much, but it is those two-sixths that form more than half of how we deal with what actually has an effect on our lives, especially when it comes to dealing with the problem of evil.
Comte’s excision of two-thirds of the explanation of the world has hamstrung reason and morally bankrupted society because those two points of explanation, while minuscule in the content of overall answers, provide the best answer to many issues. Try as hard as we may, a strictly material explanation will never fully satisfy beings which are not entirely material because the questions of who and why continually pop up.