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Understanding Scientific Understanding$
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Henk W. de Regt

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190652913

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190652913.001.0001

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Explanatory Understanding

Explanatory Understanding

A Plurality of Models

Chapter:
(p.48) 3 Explanatory Understanding
Source:
Understanding Scientific Understanding
Author(s):

Henk W. de Regt

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190652913.003.0003

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.

Keywords:   explanation, understanding, Carl Hempel, Wesley Salmon, Philip Kitcher, nomological explanation, causal explanation, unification, mechanistic explanation, pluralism

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