Understanding Versus Explanation? How to Think about the Distinction between the Human and the Natural Sciences

Inquiry 55 (1):17 - 32 (2012)
Abstract This essay will argue systematically and from a historical perspective that there is something to be said for the traditional claim that the human and natural sciences are distinct epistemic practices. Yet, in light of recent developments in contemporary philosophy of science, one has to be rather careful in utilizing the distinction between understanding and explanation for this purpose. One can only recognize the epistemic distinctiveness of the human sciences by recognizing the epistemic centrality of reenactive empathy for our understanding of rational agency, that is, by emphasizing the psychological component in the concept of understanding that nineteenth-century philosophers like Droysen, in contrast to twentieth-century hermeneutic philosophers, still acknowledged. In addition, the essay will show in detail that merely pointing to the fact that narratives have a cognitive function in the domain of the human sciences, as is common among philosophers of history, does not provide us with a sufficient demarcation criterion for distinguishing between the human and natural sciences
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DOI 10.1080/0020174X.2012.643621
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A. Macintyre (1984). After Virtue. Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 46 (1):169-171.

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