A Plurality of Models
This chapter reviews the philosophical debate on scientific explanation from the perspective of the understanding question. Since the 1950s, explanation has been a central topic of discussion among philosophers of science, and this has led to a large variety of competing models of scientific explanation. I investigate what various proposed models of explanation have to say about the nature of scientific understanding. Among these are nomological and unificationist models, and models of causal and mechanistic explanation. I discuss their merits, problems, and their associated conceptions of understanding, and argue that none of them fully succeeds in capturing the nature of scientific understanding. I conclude that we have to accept a plurality of types of explanation, and that we need an overarching theory that explains how each type generates understanding. I evaluate Wesley Salmon’s proposal, conclude that it fails, and argue that a more radically pluralist approach is needed.
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