The paradox of the inexplicable

If we leave off talking about brute facts and talk about inexplicable facts – since “brute” is nothing but “inexplicable” dressed up as a boogeyman or mythological totem – then we immediately run into a paradox: to call something inexplicable is to give an account of it, but this is precisely to give an explanation of a thing. And so “inexplicable fact” seems to suffer from a contradicio in adjecto.

True, we have resolved paradoxes like this before – Augustine struggles mightily in both Confessions and De Doctrina with a parallel riddle of ineffability, i.e. we call God ineffable only by speaking about him – even speaking about him at length. Theologians, however,  have a whole heap of explanations for the paradox: the transcendence of mystical knowledge, the lumen fidei, a generic account of illumination, apophatic theology, the division of reason and revelation, a Jamesian account of the integrity of mystical experience, etc. etc.. But what exactly resolves the paradox of inexplicable facts? It seems these can only make sense in the context of a theory that can make sense of explaining things as unable to be explained.

Outside of a theory, we are unable even to account for the word “inexplicable”. Obviously, it involves some denial of the possibility of explanation, but is this denial privative or merely negative? Is the absence a falling short of a standard or of something due, like “injustice” or “involuntary” or is it a mere statement that one thing does not apply to another?

Minimally, any theory of inexplicable facts has to find a way to divide an explanandum from an explanans. But it seems at least a necessary postulate of one who identifies a thing to be explained that there be an explanation, and a failure to find one is not usually taken as evidence for the absence of one, to say nothing of the much stronger claim that one is impossibleIn fact, given the problem that the whole question is one of possibility or impossibility, its seems impossible to resolve outside of some theory. It would seem extraordinarily difficult – though fascinating – to prove that anything is impossible to explain. At any rate, it certainly isn’t just given as possible from the outset.

So doesn’t it seem that the inexplicable would have to be an object of proof? How else would we divide it from the not-explained, or (more problematically) from the incorrectly explained? If this is right, we can only appeal to inexplicability on the basis of reasoned argument – we cannot simply postulate it or set it down as a hypothesis that someone else must rule out.  A fact might be given to sense or experience as unexplained, but it cannot be given to mere experience as inexplicable. And so the very possibility of some X being inexplicable has to be established by argument, not viewed as possible a priori.

%d bloggers like this: