The Structure of Description: Evaluating Descriptive Inferences and Conceptualizations
by Marcus Kreuzer, Villanova University
Explanation presumes description. Description explores the who, when, where, and how, and its answers furnish the raw material for theorizing and explaining. This connection between description and allegedly serendipitous exploration contributed to the notion that description is inherently subjective and thus incapable of being evaluated. I challenge this notion of “mere” description. I show that description has a distinct structure that consists of discreet analytical stages facing distinct inferential challenges. The quality of description thus becomes a function of how well it addresses those challenges. I explicate distinct criteria for evaluating how well a describer handles those challenges. I illustrate their utility by applying them to the controversy in the late 1990s between Daniel Goldhagen and Christopher Browning over what explained the willingness of ordinary Germans to kill Jews.