What is Scientific Understanding and How Can It Be Achieved?

In Kevin McKain & Kostas Kampourakis (eds.), What Is Scientific Knowledge? An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology of Science. New York, NY, USA: pp. 66-81 (2019)
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Abstract

Science has not only produced a vast amount of knowledge about a wide range of phenomena, it has also enhanced our understanding of these phenomena. Indeed, understanding can be regarded as one of the central aims of science. But what exactly is it to understand phenomena scientifically, and how can scientific understanding be achieved? What is the difference between scientific knowledge and scientific understanding? These questions are hotly debated in contemporary epistemology and philosophy of science. While philosophers have long regarded understanding as a merely subjective and psychological notion that is irrelevant from an epistemological perspective, nowadays many of them acknowledge that a philosophical account of science and its aims should include an analysis of the nature of understanding. This chapter reviews the current debate on scientific understanding. It presents the main philosophical accounts of scientific understanding and discusses topical issues such as the relation between understanding, truth and knowledge, the phenomenology of understanding, and the role of understanding in scientific progress.

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Author Profiles

Henk W. de Regt
Radboud University
Christoph Baumberger
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich

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