Understanding brute facts

Synthese 145 (3):449 - 466 (2005)
Abstract
Brute facts are facts that have no explanation. If we come to know that a fact is brute, we obviously don’t get an explanation of that fact. Nevertheless, we do make some sort of epistemic gain. In this essay, I give an account of that epistemic gain, and suggest that the idea of brute facts allows us to distinguish between the notion of explanation and the notion of understanding.I also discuss Eric Barnes’ (1994) attack on Friedman’s (1974) version of the unification theory of explanation. The unification theory asserts that scientific understanding results from minimizing the number of brute facts that we have to accept in our view of the world. Barnes claims that the unification theory cannot do justice to the notion of being a brute fact, because it implies that brute facts are gaps in our understanding of the world. I defend Friedman’s theory against Barnes’ critique.
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