Journal Article

The Role of Explanation in Understanding

Kareem Khalifa

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 64, issue 1, pages 161-187
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online May 2012 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axr057
The Role of Explanation in Understanding

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Peter Lipton has argued that understanding can exist in the absence of explanation. We argue that this does not denigrate explanation's importance to understanding. Specifically, we show that all of Lipton's examples are consistent with the idea that explanation is the ideal of understanding, i.e. other modes of understanding ought to be assessed by how well they replicate the understanding provided by a good and correct explanation. We defend this idea by showing that for all of Lipton's examples of non-explanatory understanding of why p, there exists a correct and reasonably good explanation that would provide greater understanding of p.

1Lipton's Framework

2Clarifying Lipton's Framework

3Explanatory Idealism

  3.1Misunderstanding without explanation

  3.2How to interpret Lipton's examples

4Examples of Modal Understanding

5Critical Information and the Galileo Example

6Unification via Tacit Analogy

  6.1Explanatory unification

  6.2Unification and explanatory idealism

7Tacit Understanding of Causes

  7.1Semantic knowledge

  7.2Tacit explanations

8Conclusion

Journal Article.  9034 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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