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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

(p.48) 3 Explanatory Understanding
Understanding Scientific Understanding

Henk W. de Regt

Oxford University Press

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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