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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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Understanding and the Aims of Science

Understanding and the Aims of Science

(p.15) 2 Understanding and the Aims of Science
Understanding Scientific Understanding

Henk W. de Regt

Oxford University Press

Philosophers of science have long believed that understanding, contrary to explanation, is a philosophically irrelevant notion. On Carl Hempel’s influential view, understanding is psychological and pragmatic, and can therefore be ignored by philosophers. This chapter argues, by contrast, that understanding is not merely a psychological byproduct of explanations but a central aim of science, and that it is accordingly epistemically significant. On the basis of an analysis of the processes of constructing and evaluating scientific explanations, it argues that the production of scientific knowledge and explanations involves skill and judgment, which implies the requirement that scientific theories be intelligible. Intelligibility, defined as the value that scientists attribute to the cluster of qualities that facilitate the use of a theory, is essential for achieving the epistemic aims of science. Finally, it argues that the pragmatic nature of understanding does not undermine the objectivity of scientific explanation and understanding.

Keywords:   understanding, intelligibility, pragmatics of explanation, skills, judgment, models, scientific theories, values, objectivity, Carl Hempel

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