SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Scientific Understanding and Scientific Explanation
(Philosophy of Science, English)

Scientific Understanding has not been considered an important topic in philosophy of science until quite recently, and the philosophical research on this issue is still in its beginnings. In this talk, I address the question of how scientific understanding and scientific explanation are related. I claim that scientific understanding necessarily requires scientific explanation.

To defend this thesis, I first present the core concepts of the two most elaborated accounts of understanding, put forward by Henk de Regt (2017) and Kareem Khalifa (2017). Although their accounts differ in some respects, I explicate their commonalities to strengthen my position. Both authors are only concerned with understanding that involves an explanation, because cases from scientific practice show that understanding is achieved via explanation. This observation supports my claim. However, explanatory understanding is not the only kind of scientific understanding discussed in the literature. Objectual understanding, which does not necessarily require explanation, is a possible alternative. In a third part, I discuss the view of Jonathan Kvanvig (2009), who argues that explanatory understanding and objectual understanding are genuinely distinct, and the critique by Kareem Khalifa (2013) on this position. On the basis of this, I present my own account of scientific understanding and explicate how scientific understanding is linked to scientific explanation. Understanding is a cognitive disposition that enables scientists to recognize relations between pieces of knowledge and phenomena. Explanations establish these relations and make them explicit. Lastly, I apply my account to examples proposed by Peter Lipton (2009). He states that scientific understanding can be achieved without explanation. I show that, by adopting my account, explanations are used in Lipton's examples to gain scientific understanding.

Chair: Gregor Greslehner
Time: 14:00-14:30, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.005

Anna Elisabeth Höhl 
(Bielefeld University, Germany)

Anna Elisabeth Höhl is a doctoral student in philosophy of science in the DFG (German Research Foundation) research project 2073 "Integrating Ethics and Epistemology of Scientific Research" at the Bielefeld University. Since October 2018, she is working on her dissertation project "Scientific Understanding -- Its Nature, Values and Meaning". After completing her interdisciplinary bachelor studies in physics and history at the Leibniz University Hannover, she joined a master's program in philosophy of science at the same university. During her master studies, she spent one semester abroad at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Her interests include many topics in philosophy of science and epistemology.

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