Venkatesh Rao put me onto “Actor Network Theory”. (I won’t describe or explain it, though—for reasons that are about to become apparent.) Its Wikipedia page includes the words:
“ANT holds that social forces do not exist in themselves, and therefore cannot be used to explain social phenomena. Instead, strictly empirical analysis should be undertaken to “describe” rather than “explain” social activity.”
It struck me that the idea of description before explanation should be adapted as a heuristic for our conceptual operations. Specifically, If you can’t describe something, don’t attempt to explain it. For example, I shouldn’t attempt to explain the financial collapse of 2008 if I can’t describe the elements that make up the financial system itself. I shouldn’t explain why cryptocurrencies are good or evil if I can’t first describe the mechanisms by which they operate. I shouldn’t pontificate on the rationale for the Second World War without a deep knowledge of the state of Europe in the decade or two before it began.
More formally: An explanation of XYZ must be preceded by the ability to accurately describe X, Y and Z.