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Summary Understanding considered as an epistemic accomplishment.  Some of the relevant questions include: How does understanding differ (if at all) from other epistemic accomplishments such as knowledge or wisdom?  And what does it take to understand events in the world, as opposed to people, or languages, or works of art?
Key works Influential recent works include Zagzebski 2001, Kvanvig 2003, and Grimm 2006.
Introductions Grimm 2011 offers an overview of the literature.
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  1. Peter Achinstein (1971). Law and Explanation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Science. London,Oxford University Press.
  2. Alex Barber (2013). Understanding as Knowledge of Meaning. Philosophy Compass 8 (10):964-977.
    Testimony, the transmission of knowledge through communication, requires a shared understanding of linguistic expressions and utterances of them. Is this understanding itself a kind of knowledge, knowledge of meaning? The intuitive answer is ‘yes’, but the nature of such knowledge is controversial, as is the assumption that understanding is a kind of knowledge at all. This article is a critical examination of recent work on the nature and role of semantic knowledge in the generation of the linguistic understanding needed for (...)
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  3. Eric Barnes (1992). Explanatory Unification and Scientific Understanding. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1992:3 - 12.
    The theory of explanatory unification was first proposed by Friedman (1974) and developed by Kitcher (1981, 1989). The primary motivation for this theory, it seems to me, is the argument that this account of explanation is the only account that correctly describes the genesis of scientific understanding. Despite the apparent plausibility of Friedman's argument to this effect, however, I argue here that the unificationist thesis of understanding is false. The theory of explanatory unification as articulated by Friedman and Kitcher thus (...)
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  4. Kelly Becker (2012). Basic Knowledge and Easy Understanding. Acta Analytica 27 (2):145-161.
    Reliabilism is a theory that countenances basic knowledge, that is, knowledge from a reliable source, without requiring that the agent knows the source is reliable. Critics (especially Cohen 2002 ) have argued that such theories generate all-too-easy, intuitively implausible cases of higher-order knowledge based on inference from basic knowledge. For present purposes, the criticism might be recast as claiming that reliabilism implausibly generates cases of understanding from brute, basic knowledge. I argue that the easy knowledge (or easy understanding) criticism rests (...)
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  5. Ruth Berger (1998). Understanding Science: Why Causes Are Not Enough. Philosophy of Science 65 (2):306-332.
    This paper is an empirical critique of causal accounts of scientific explanation. Drawing on explanations which rely on nonlinear dynamical modeling, I argue that the requirement of causal relevance is both too strong and too weak to be constitutive of scientific explanation. In addition, causal accounts obscure how the process of mathematical modeling produces explanatory information. I advance three arguments for the inadequacy of causal accounts. First, I argue that explanatorily relevant information is not always information about causes, even in (...)
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  6. Ayca Boylu (2010). How Understanding Makes Knowledge Valuable. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 40 (4):591-609.
    Many have suggested that understanding is a worthier goal for theoretical reflection than is propositional knowledge.1 Some have even claimed that, unlike knowledge, understanding is always intrinsically valuable.2 In this essay, I aim only to show that there is a basic value in understanding and that when knowledge conduces to understanding, it gets this basic value extrinsically from understanding. After distinguishing two kinds of understanding, namely, teleological and non-teleological understanding, I will conclude that teleological understanding has more of this basic (...)
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  7. Jochen Briesen (2014). Pictorial Art and Epistemic Aims. In Harald Klinke (ed.), Art Theory as Visual Epistemology. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 11-28.
    The question whether art is of any epistemic value is an old question in the philosophy of art. Whereas many contemporary artists, art-critics, and art-historians answer this question affirmatively, many contemporary philosophers remain skeptical. If art is of epistemic significance, they maintain, then it has to contribute to our quest of achieving our most basic epistemic aim, namely knowledge.Unfortunately, recent and widely accepted analyses of knowledge make it very hard to see how art might significantly contribute to the quest of (...)
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  8. Berit Brogaard, I Know. Therefore, I Understand.
    The so-called Meno problem is one of the recent trendy topics in epistemology.1 In a nutshell, the Meno problem is that of explaining why we value knowledge more than true belief. In his recent book The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding Jon Kvanvig argues quite convincingly that no existing account of knowledge can accommodate the intuition that the value of knowledge exceeds the value of true belief.
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  9. Tyler Burge (2013). Cognition Through Understanding: Self-Knowledge, Interlocution, Reasoning, Reflection: Philosophical Essays, Volume 3. Oup Oxford.
    Cognition Through Understanding presents a selection of Tyler Burge's essays on cognition, thought, and language. The essays collected here use epistemology as a way of interpreting underlying powers of mind, and focus on four types of cognition that are warranted through understanding: self-knowledge, interlocution, reasoning, and reflection.
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  10. J. Adam Carter (2013). Relativism, Knowledge and Understanding. Episteme:1-18.
    The arguments for and against a truth-relativist semantics for propositional knowledge attributions (KTR) have been debated almost exclusively in the philosophy of language. But what implications would this semantic thesis have in epistemology? This question has been largely unexplored. The aim of this paper is to establish and critique several ramifications of KTR in mainstream epistemology. The first section of the paper develops, over a series of arguments, the claim that MacFarlane's (2005, 2010) core argument for KTR ultimately motivates (for (...)
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  11. J. Adam Carter & Emma C. Gordon (forthcoming). On Pritchard, Objectual Understanding and the Value Problem. American Philosophical Quarterly.
    Duncan Pritchard (2008, 2009, 2010, forthcoming) has argued for an elegant solution to what have been called the value problems for knowledge at the forefront of recent literature on epistemic value. As Pritchard sees it, these problems dissolve once it is recognized that that it is understanding-why, not knowledge, that bears the distinctive epistemic value often (mistakenly) attributed to knowledge. A key element of Pritchard’s revisionist argument is the claim that understanding-why always involves what he calls strong cognitive achievement—viz., cognitive (...)
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  12. J. Adam Carter & Emma C. Gordon (2014). On Cognitive and Moral Enhancement: A Reply to Savulescu and Persson. Bioethics 28 (1).
    In a series of recent works, Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson insist that, given the ease by which irreversible destruction is achievable by a morally wicked minority, (i) strictly cognitive bio-enhancement is currently too risky, while (ii) moral bio-enhancement is plausibly morally mandatory (and urgently so). This article aims to show that the proposal Savulescu and Persson advance relies on several problematic assumptions about the separability of cognitive and moral enhancement as distinct aims. Specifically, we propose that the underpinnings of (...)
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  13. J. Adam Carter & Emma C. Gordon (2013). A New Maneuver Against the Epistemic Relativist. Synthese (8):1-13.
    Epistemic relativists often appeal to an epistemic incommensurability thesis. One notable example is the position advanced by Wittgenstein in On certainty (1969). However, Ian Hacking’s radical denial of the possibility of objective epistemic reasons for belief poses, we suggest, an even more forceful challenge to mainstream meta-epistemology. Our central objective will be to develop a novel strategy for defusing Hacking’s line of argument. Specifically, we show that the epistemic incommensurability thesis can be resisted even if we grant the very insights (...)
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  14. Timothy Chappell (2007). Jonathan Kvanvig: The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding. Faith and Philosophy 24 (4):475-479.
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  15. Neil Cooper (1995). The Epistemology of Understanding. Inquiry 38 (3):205 – 215.
    My principal aims are to question the conventional wisdom on two points. First, it argues that cognitive understanding is neither identical with nor reducible to knowledge?why, and that it is a multiform capacity which adds value to knowledge, true belief, and human creative activity. Essential to understanding is epistemic ascent, the rising above bare knowledge, to assess, appraise, compare, contrast, emphasize, connect and so on. Different modes of understanding are distinguished and an accompanying vocabulary of mode?indicators (expressing Fregean ?colour'). Second, (...)
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  16. James T. Cushing (1991). Quantum Theory and Explanatory Discourse: Endgame for Understanding? Philosophy of Science 58 (3):337-358.
    Empirical adequacy, formal explanation and understanding are distinct goals of science. While no a priori criterion for understanding should be laid down, there may be inherent limitations on the way we are able to understand explanations of physical phenomena. I examine several recent contributions to the exercise of fashioning an explanatory discourse to mold the formal explanation provided by quantum mechanics to our modes of understanding. The question is whether we are capable of truly understanding (or comprehending) quantum phenomena, as (...)
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  17. Henk W. de Regt (2009). The Epistemic Value of Understanding. Philosophy of Science 76 (5):585-597.
    This article analyzes the epistemic value of understanding and offers an account of the role of understanding in science. First, I discuss the objectivist view of the relation between explanation and understanding, defended by Carl Hempel and J. D. Trout. I challenge this view by arguing that pragmatic aspects of explanation are crucial for achieving the epistemic aims of science. Subsequently, I present an analysis of these pragmatic aspects in terms of ‘intelligibility’ and a contextual account of scientific understanding based (...)
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  18. Henk W. de Regt (2004). Discussion Note: Making Sense of Understanding. Philosophy of Science 71 (1):98-109.
    J.D. Trout (2002) presents a challenge to all theorists of scientific explanation who appeal to the notion of understanding. Trout denounces understanding as irrelevant, if not dangerous, from an epistemic perspective and he endorses a radically objectivist view of explanation instead. In this note I accept Trout's challenge. I criticize his argument and defend a non-objectivist, pragmatic conception of understanding that is epistemically relevant.
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  19. Henk W. de Regt (1999). Ludwig Boltzmann's Bildtheorie and Scientific Understanding. Synthese 119 (1-2):113-134.
    Boltzmann’s Bildtheorie, which asserts that scientific theories are ‘mental pictures’ having at best a partial similarity to reality, was a core element of his philosophy of science. The aim of this article is to draw attention to a neglected aspect of it, namely its significance for the issue of scientific explanation and understanding, regarded by Boltzmann as central goals of science. I argue that, in addition to being an epistemological view of the interpretation of scientific theories Boltzmann’s Bildtheorie has implications (...)
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  20. Michael R. Depaul & Stephen R. Grimm (2007). Review Essay on Jonathan Kvanvig's the Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (2):498–514.
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  21. Dennis Dieks & Henk W. de Regt (1998). Reduction and Understanding. Foundations of Science 3 (1):45-59.
    Reductionism, in the sense of the doctrine that theories on different levels of reality should exhibit strict and general relations of deducibility, faces well-known difficulties. Nevertheless, the idea that deeper layers of reality are responsible for what happens at higher levels is well-entrenched in scientific practice. We argue that the intuition behind this idea is adequately captured by the notion of supervenience: the physical state of the fundamental physical layers fixes the states of the higher levels. Supervenience is weaker than (...)
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  22. Matti Eklund (2007). Meaning-Constitutivity. Inquiry 50 (6):559-574.
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  23. Catherine Elgin (2007). Understanding and the Facts. Philosophical Studies 132 (1):33 - 42.
    If understanding is factive, the propositions that express an understanding are true. I argue that a factive conception of understanding is unduly restrictive. It neither reflects our practices in ascribing understanding nor does justice to contemporary science. For science uses idealizations and models that do not mirror the facts. Strictly speaking, they are false. By appeal to exemplification, I devise a more generous, flexible conception of understanding that accommodates science, reflects our practices, and shows a sufficient but not slavish sensitivity (...)
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  24. Catherine Elgin (2006). From Knowledge to Understanding. In Stephen Cade Hetherington (ed.), Epistemology Futures. Oxford University Press. 199--215.
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  25. Catherine Z. Elgin (1993). Understanding: Art and Science. Synthese 95 (1):196-208.
    The arts and the sciences perform many of the same cognitive functions, both serving to advance understanding. This paper explores some of the ways exemplification operates in the two fields. Both scientific experiments and works of art highlight, underscore, display, or convey some of their own features. They thereby focus attention on them, and make them available for examination and projection. Thus, the Michelson-Morley experiment exemplifies the constancy of the speed of light. Jackson Pollock'sNumber One exemplifies the viscosity of paint. (...)
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  26. R. L. Franklin (1981). Knowledge, Belief and Understanding. Philosophical Quarterly 31 (124):193-208.
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  27. Elizabeth Fricker (2003). Understanding and Knowledge of What is Said. In Alex Barber (ed.), Epistemology of Language. Oxford University Press. 325--66.
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  28. Michael Friedman (1974). Explanation and Scientific Understanding. Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.
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  29. Georgi Gardiner (2012). Understanding, Integration, and Epistemic Value. Acta Analytica 27 (2):163-181.
    Understanding enjoys a special kind of value, one not held by lesser epistemic states such as knowledge and true belief. I explain the value of understanding via a seemingly unrelated topic, the implausibility of veritism. Veritism holds that true belief is the sole ultimate epistemic good and all other epistemic goods derive their value from the epistemic value of true belief. Veritism entails that if you have a true belief that p, you have all the epistemic good qua p. Veritism (...)
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  30. Emma C. Gordon (2012). Is There Propositional Understanding? Logos and Episteme 8:181-192.
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  31. Emma C. Gordon, The Key Characteristics of Understanding and the Nature of its Value.
    I begin the analysis of understanding by considering the initially plausible claim that understanding is a species of knowledge. In order to do this, I investigate a variety of ways in which the two epistemic states might come apart, and see whether the notion that they often do so is plausible. I progress to examine a number of the most common and plausible hallmark features of understanding discussed in the current literature, and go on to try and clarify the different (...)
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  32. Stephen R. Grimm (2008). Explanatory Inquiry and the Need for Explanation. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59 (3):481-497.
    Explanatory inquiry characteristically begins with a certain puzzlement about the world. But why do certain situations elicit our puzzlement (or curiosity) while others leave us, in some epistemically relevant sense, cold? Moreover, what exactly is involved in the move from a state of puzzlement to a state where one's puzzlement is satisfied? In this paper I try to answer both of these questions. I also suggest ways in which our account of scientific rationality might benefit from having a better (...)
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  33. Stephen Grimm (2012). “The Value of Understanding”. Philosophy Compass 7 (2):103-117.
    Over the last several years a number of leading philosophers – including Catherine Elgin, Linda Zagzebski, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Duncan Pritchard – have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the contemporary focus on knowledge in epistemology and have attempted to “recover” the notion of understanding. According to some of these philosophers, in fact, understanding deserves not just to be recovered, but to supplant knowledge as the focus of epistemological inquiry. This entry considers some of the main reasons why philosophers have taken understanding (...)
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  34. Stephen Grimm (2011). Understanding. In D. Pritchard S. Berneker (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Epistemology. Routledge.
    This entry offers a critical overview of the contemporary literature on understanding, especially in epistemology and the philosophy of science.
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  35. Stephen Grimm (2011). On Intellectualism in Epistemology. Mind 120 (479):705-733.
    According to ‘orthodox’ epistemology, it has recently been said, whether or not a true belief amounts to knowledge depends exclusively on truth-related factors: for example, on whether the true belief was formed in a reliable way, or was supported by good evidence, and so on. Jason Stanley refers to this as the ‘intellectualist’ component of orthodox epistemology, and Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath describe it as orthodox epistemology’s commitment to a ‘purely epistemic’ account of knowledge — that is, an account (...)
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  36. Stephen R. Grimm (2006). Is Understanding a Species of Knowledge? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (3):515-535.
    Among philosophers of science there seems to be a general consensus that understanding represents a species of knowledge, but virtually every major epistemologist who has thought seriously about understanding has come to deny this claim. Against this prevailing tide in epistemology, I argue that understanding is, in fact, a species of knowledge: just like knowledge, for example, understanding is not transparent and can be Gettiered. I then consider how the psychological act of "grasping" that seems to be characteristic of understanding (...)
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  37. Steven A. Gross (2005). Linguistic Understanding and Belief. Mind 114 (453):61-66.
    Comment on Dean Pettit, who replies in same issue.
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  38. Allan Hazlett, Limning Structure as an Epistemic Goal.
    In the Phaedrus, Socreates sympathetically describes the ability “to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do.” (265e) In contemporary philosophy, Ted Sider (2009, 2011) defends the same idea. As I shall put it, Plato and Sider’s idea is that limning structure is an epistemic goal. My aim in this paper is to articulate and defend this idea. First, I’ll articulate the notion (...)
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  39. Michael Heidelberger (2011). Causal and Symbolic Understanding in Historical Epistemology. Erkenntnis 75 (3):467-482.
    The term “historical epistemology” can be read in two different ways: (1) as referring to a program of ‘historicizing’ epistemology, in the sense of a critique of traditional epistemology’s tendency to gloss over historical context, or (2) as a manifesto of ‘epistemologizing’ history, i.e. as a critique of radical historicist and relativist approaches. In this paper I will defend a position in this second sense. I show that one can account for the historical development and diversity of science without disavowing (...)
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  40. Paul Helm (1997). Faith and Understanding. Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub..
    In Part One Paul Helm provides a general discussion of these themes, seeking both to contextualize the debate and to engage with contemporary philosophical discussion of the relation between faith, reason and understanding. Part Two contains five case studies that illustrate the work of seminal figures in the tradition. They include treatments of Augustine on time and creation, Anselm on the ontological argument and the necessity of the atonement, Jonathan Edwards on the nature of personal identity and John Calvin and (...)
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  41. C. A. Hooker (1980). Explanation, Generality and Understanding. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 58 (3):284 – 290.
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  42. Michael Huemer (2004). Review: The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (452):763-766.
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  43. David Hunter (2001). Knowledge and Understanding. Mind and Language 16 (5):542–546.
    Some philosophical proposals seem to die hard. In a recent paper, Jason Stanley has worked to resurrect the description theory of reference, at least as it might apply to natural kind terms like ‘elm’ (Stanley, 1999). The theory’s founding idea is that to understand ‘elm’ one must know a uniquely identifying truth about elms. Famously, Hilary Putnam showed that ordinary users of ‘elm’ may understand it while lacking such knowledge, and may even be unable to distinguish elms from beeches (Putnam, (...)
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  44. David Hunter (1997). Understanding, Justification and the a Priori. Philosophical Studies 87 (2):119-141.
    What I wish to consider here is how understanding something is related to the justification of beliefs about what it means. Suppose, for instance, that S understands the name “Clinton” and has a justified belief that it names Clinton. How is S’s understanding related to that belief’s justification? Or suppose that S understands the sentence “Clinton is President”, or Jones’ assertive utterance of it, and has a justified belief that that sentence expresses the proposition that Clinton is President, or that (...)
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  45. Mikael Janvid (2012). Knowledge Versus Understanding: The Cost of Avoiding Gettier. Acta Analytica 27 (2):183-197.
    In the current discussion on epistemic value, several philosophers argue that understanding enjoys higher epistemological significance and epistemic value than knowledge—the epistemic state the epistemological tradition has been preoccupied with. By noting a tension between the necessary conditions for understanding in the perhaps most prominent of these philosophers, Jonathan Kvanvig, this paper disputes the higher epistemological relevance of understanding. At the end, on the basis of the results of the previous sections, some alternative comparative contrasts between knowledge and understanding are (...)
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  46. K. Khalifa (2013). The Role of Explanation in Understanding. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (1):161-187.
    Peter Lipton has argued that understanding can exist in the absence of explanation. We argue that this does not denigrate explanation's importance to understanding. Specifically, we show that all of Lipton's examples are consistent with the idea that explanation is the ideal of understanding, i.e. other modes of understanding ought to be assessed by how well they replicate the understanding provided by a good and correct explanation. We defend this idea by showing that for all of Lipton's examples of non-explanatory (...)
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  47. Kareem Khalifa (2013). Is Understanding Explanatory or Objectual? Synthese 190 (6):1153-1171.
    Jonathan Kvanvig has argued that “objectual” understanding, i.e. the understanding we have of a large body of information, cannot be reduced to explanatory concepts. In this paper, I show that Kvanvig fails to establish this point, and then propose a framework for reducing objectual understanding to explanatory understanding.
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  48. Kareem Khalifa (2013). Understanding, Grasping, and Luck. Episteme 10 (1):1-17.
    Recently, it has been debated as to whether understanding is a species of explanatory knowledge. Those who deny this claim frequently argue that understanding, unlike knowledge, can be lucky. In this paper I argue that current arguments do not support this alleged compatibility between understanding and epistemic luck. First, I argue that understanding requires reliable explanatory evaluation, yet the putative examples of lucky understanding underspecify the extent to which subjects possess this ability. In the course of defending this claim, I (...)
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  49. Kareem Khalifa (2012). Inaugurating Understanding or Repackaging Explanation? Philosophy of Science 79 (1):15-37.
    Recently, several authors have argued that scientific understanding should be a new topic of philosophical research. In this article, I argue that the three most developed accounts of understanding--Grimm's, de Regt's, and de Regt and Dieks's--can be replaced by earlier accounts of scientific explanation without loss. Indeed, in some cases, such replacements have clear benefits.
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  50. Kareem Khalifa (2011). Understanding, Knowledge, and Scientific Antirealism. Grazer Philosophische Studien 83 (1):93-112.
    Epistemologists have recently debated whether understanding is a species of knowledge. However, because they have offered little in the way of a detailed analysis of understanding, they lack the resources to resolve this issue. In this paper, I propose that S understands why p if and only if S has the non-Gettierised true belief that p, and for some proposition q, S has the non-Gettierised true belief that q is the best available explanation of p, S can correctly explain p (...)
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