Understanding, explanation, and unification

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):516-522 (2013)
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Abstract

In this article I argue that there are two different types of understanding: the understanding we get from explanations, and the understanding we get from unification. This claim is defended by first showing that explanation and unification are not as closely related as has sometimes been thought. A critical appraisal of recent proposals for understanding without explanation leads us to discuss the example of a purely classificatory biology: it turns out that such a science can give us understanding of the world through unification of the phenomena, even though it does not give us any explanations. The two types of understanding identified in this paper, while strictly separate, do have in common that both consist in seeing how the individual phenomena of the universe hang together. Explanations give us connections between the phenomena through the asymmetric, ‘vertical’ relation of determination; unifications give us connections through the symmetric, ‘horizontal’ relation of kinship. We then arrive at a general definition of understanding as knowledge of connections between the phenomena, and indicate that there might be more than two types of understanding.

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Victor Gijsbers
Leiden University

Citations of this work

Understanding (with) Toy Models.Alexander Reutlinger, Dominik Hangleiter & Stephan Hartmann - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (4):1069-1099.
Understanding (With) Toy Models.Alexander Reutlinger, Dominik Hangleiter & Stephan Hartmann - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axx005.
Scientific progress: Knowledge versus understanding.Finnur Dellsén - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 56 (C):72-83.
Explicating objectual understanding: taking degrees seriously.Christoph Baumberger - 2019 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 1:1-22.

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References found in this work

Studies in the logic of explanation.Carl Gustav Hempel & Paul Oppenheim - 1948 - Philosophy of Science 15 (2):135-175.
Explanatory unification.Philip Kitcher - 1981 - Philosophy of Science 48 (4):507-531.
Explanatory unification and the causal structure of the world.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.
Understanding without explanation.Peter Lipton - 2009 - In H. W. de Regt, S. Leonelli & K. Eigner (eds.), Scientific Understanding: Philosophical Perspectives. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 43-63.

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