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Summary Understanding and explanation are both central topics in philosophy of science and epistemology. But how are the two related? One popular view is that understanding is just the cognitive state you are in then you can explain something. Another view is that understanding involves explanation, but also involves other cognitive abilities, such as an ability to explain other things. Finally, some argue that understanding needn't even involve explanation at all.
Key works Early work on explanation which emphasize its role in generating understanding include Friedman 1974 and Salmon 1993. Strevens 2013 and Khalifa 2012 (see also Khalifa 2013) both argue that understanding and explanation are roughly two sides of the same coin. Grimm 2010 argues that understanding is the goal of explanation, and Hills 2015 argues that understanding amounts to a kind of cognitive (and partly explanatory) know-how.  Lipton 2009 argues that there are cases that show that understanding needn't involve explanation. Kvanvig 2009 argues that there is a type of understanding -- objectual understanding -- that isn't necessarily explanatory. Khalifa 2013 demurs.
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  1. Understanding and Explanation: A Transcendental-Pragmatic Perspective.Apel Karl-Otto & Warnke Georgia - 1986 - Philosophy of Science 53 (1):152-154.
  2. La "distinción" diltheyana entre explicación y comprensión y la posibilidad de una "mediación" entre ambas.Karl Otto Apel - 1985 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 15 (1):95.
  3. Understanding and Explanation: A Transcendental-Pragmatic Perspective.Karl-Otto Apel - 1988 - MIT Press.
    The explanation versus understanding debate was important to the philosophy of thesocial sciences from the time of Dilthey and Weber through the work of Popper and Hempel.
  4. La Distincion Diltheyana Entre Explicacion y Comprension y la Posibilidad de Mediacion Entre Ambas.Karl-Otto Apel - 1985 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 15 (1-2):95-114.
  5. Dilthey's Distinction Between "Explanation" and '"Understanding" and the Possibility of its "Mediation".Karl-Otto Apel & tr Krois, John Michael - 1987 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (1):131-149.
  6. Understanding and Explanation. A Transcendental-Pragmatic Perspective.Karl-Otto Apel & Georgia Warnke - 1988 - Studies in Soviet Thought 35 (1):57-61.
  7. Can Explanation and Understanding Be Linked?Margaret Scotford Archer - unknown
    The problem of linking 'explanation' and 'understanding' remains unresolved - as Weber left it. This paper challenges the view that their reconciliation is impossible, as some theorists have maintained. Their case is that the entities involved - subjective meanings and objective relationships - are too ontologically different to be combined. From the stratified ontology of Social Realism, which acknowledges that different properties and powers pertain to different components and levels of social reality, this is no barrier in principle to their (...)
  8. Scientific Explanation and Understanding: Unificationism Reconsidered.Sorin Bangu - 2017 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 7 (1):103-126.
    The articulation of an overarching account of scientific explanation has long been a central preoccupation for the philosophers of science. Although a while ago the literature was dominated by two approaches—a causal account and a unificationist account—today the consensus seems to be that the causal account has won. In this paper, I challenge this consensus and attempt to revive unificationism. More specifically, I aim to accomplish three goals. First, I add new criticisms to the standard anti-unificationist arguments, in order to (...)
  9. What is Understanding? An Overview of Recent Debates in Epistemology and Philosophy of Science.Christoph Baumberger, Claus Beisbart & Georg Brun - 2017 - In Stephen Grimm Christoph Baumberger & Sabine Ammon (eds.), Explaining Understanding: New Perspectives from Epistemolgy and Philosophy of Science. Routledge. pp. 1-34.
    The paper provides a systematic overview of recent debates in epistemology and philosophy of science on the nature of understanding. We explain why philosophers have turned their attention to understanding and discuss conditions for “explanatory” understanding of why something is the case and for “objectual” understanding of a whole subject matter. The most debated conditions for these types of understanding roughly resemble the three traditional conditions for knowledge: truth, justification and belief. We discuss prominent views about how to construe these (...)
  10. Explanation and Understanding.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1972 - International Philosophical Quarterly 12 (4):626-629.
  11. Stephan Strasser, Understanding and Explanation Reviewed By.William Bechtel - 1986 - Philosophy in Review 6 (3):131-133.
  12. Stephan Strasser, Understanding and Explanation. [REVIEW]William Bechtel - 1986 - Philosophy in Review 6:131-133.
  13. The Dynamics of Explanation: Mathematical Modeling and Scientific Understanding.Ruth Berger - 1997 - Dissertation, Indiana University
    This dissertation challenges two prevalent views on the topic of scientific explanation: that science explains by revealing causal mechanisms, and that science explains by unifying our knowledge of the world. ;My methodological strategy is to compare our best current philosophical accounts of scientific explanation with evidence from contemporary scientific research. In particular, I focus on evidence from dynamical explanations, that is, explanations which appeal to nonlinear dynamical modeling for their force. Nonlinear dynamical modeling is a type of mathematical modeling which (...)
  14. Explanation and Understanding. [REVIEW] Brittan Jr - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (20):759-765.
  15. Explanation and Understanding.Gordon G. Brittan & George Henrik Von Wright - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (20):759.
  16. Experimental Philosophy of Explanation Rising: The Case for a Plurality of Concepts of Explanation.Matteo Colombo - 2016 - Cognitive Science 40 (5).
    This paper brings together results from the philosophy and the psychology of explanation to argue that there are multiple concepts of explanation in human psychology. Specifically, it is shown that pluralism about explanation coheres with the multiplicity of models of explanation available in the philosophy of science, and it is supported by evidence from the psychology of explanatory judgment. Focusing on the case of a norm of explanatory power, the paper concludes by responding to the worry that if there is (...)
  17. Explanatory Value and Probabilistic Reasoning: An Empirical Study.Matteo Colombo, Marie Postma & Jan Sprenger - unknown
    The relation between probabilistic and explanatory reasoning is a classical topic in philosophy of science. Most philosophical analyses are concerned with the compatibility of Inference to the Best Explanation with probabilistic, Bayesian inference, and the impact of explanatory considerations on the assignment of subjective probabilities. This paper reverses the question and asks how causal and explanatory considerations are affected by probabilistic information. We investigate how probabilistic information determines the explanatory value of a hypothesis, and in which sense folk explanatory practice (...)
  18. SCIENTIFIC UNDERSTANDING-VIEWS FROM PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. David-Rus - 2012 - Revue Roumaine de Philosophie 56 (2).
    Scientific understanding was a rather neglected topic in philosophy of science, despite its association with the well-known explanation subject. The classical position on explanation considered an approach on understanding to be redundant on one on explanation. Besides, the dominant view promoted by the unificationist approach on explanation conceived understanding as a “global affair”, as Friedman called it, of scientific knowledge. The recent developments in philosophy of science redirected the research to more local aspects of science and scientific inquiry. This new (...)
  19. Understanding and Explanation: Living Apart Together?Henk W. de Regt - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):505-509.
  20. Ludwig Boltzmann's Bildtheorie and Scientific Understanding.Henk W. de Regt - 1999 - 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 (...)
  21. Scientific Understanding: Philosophical Perspectives.Henk De Regt, Sabina Leonelli & Kai Eigner (eds.) - 2009 - University of Pittsburgh Press.
  22. Scientific Progress: Knowledge Versus Understanding.Finnur Dellsén - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 56:72-83.
    What is scientific progress? On Alexander Bird’s epistemic account of scientific progress, an episode in science is progressive precisely when there is more scientific knowledge at the end of the episode than at the beginning. Using Bird’s epistemic account as a foil, this paper develops an alternative understanding-based account on which an episode in science is progressive precisely when scientists grasp how to correctly explain or predict more aspects of the world at the end of the episode than at the (...)
  23. Understanding Without Justification or Belief.Finnur Dellsén - 2016 - Ratio 30 (2).
    In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest among epistemologists in the nature of understanding, with some authors arguing that understanding should replace knowledge as the primary focus of epistemology. But what is understanding? According to what is often called the standard view, understanding is a species of knowledge. Although this view has recently been challenged in various ways, even the critics of the standard view have assumed that understanding requires justification and belief. I argue that it requires (...)
  24. Zur Kritik des totalisierenden Erklärungsprogramms. Über normative Voraussetzungen der Wissenschaft, am Beispiel der Soziobiologie.Andreas Dorschel - 1988 - Theologie Und Philosophie 63 (3):384-395.
  25. Understanding Brute Facts.Ludwig Fahrbach - 2005 - Synthese 145 (3):449-466.
    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 (...)
  26. Scientific Understanding, Representation, and Explanation.Jan Faye - forthcoming - Epistemologia.
  27. Cause, Explanation, and Understanding in Science: Galileo's Case.Maurice A. Finocchiaro - 1975 - Review of Metaphysics 29 (1):117 - 128.
  28. The Meta-Explanatory Question.L. R. Franklin-Hall - manuscript
    Philosophical theories of explanation characterize the difference between correct and incorrect explanations. While remaining neutral as to which of these ‘first-order’ theories is right, this paper asks the ‘meta-explanatory’ question: is the difference between correct and incorrect explanation real, i.e., objective or mind-independent? After offering a framework for distinguishing realist from anti-realist views, I sketch three distinct paths to explanatory anti-realism.
  29. Explanation and Scientific Understanding.Michael Friedman - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.
  30. Explanation and Understanding.von Wright Georg Henrik - 2014 - Routledge.
    This volume distinguishes between two main traditions in the philosophy of science - the aristotelian, with its stress on explanation in terms of purpose and intentionality, and the galilean, which takes causal explanation as primary. It then traces the complex history of these competing traditions as they are manifested in such movements as positivism, idealism, Marxism and contemporary linguistic analysis. Hempels's theory of scientific explanation, the claims of cybernetics the rise of an analytic philosophy of action and the revival of (...)
  31. Explanation and Understanding.von Wright Georg Henrik - 2013 - Routledge.
    This volume distinguishes between two main traditions in the philosophy of science - the aristotelian, with its stress on explanation in terms of purpose and intentionality, and the galilean, which takes causal explanation as primary. It then traces the complex history of these competing traditions as they are manifested in such movements as positivism, idealism, Marxism and contemporary linguistic analysis. Hempels's theory of scientific explanation, the claims of cybernetics the rise of an analytic philosophy of action and the revival of (...)
  32. Explanation and Understanding.von Wright Georg Henrik - 2012 - Routledge.
    This volume distinguishes between two main traditions in the philosophy of science - the aristotelian, with its stress on explanation in terms of purpose and intentionality, and the galilean, which takes causal explanation as primary. It then traces the complex history of these competing traditions as they are manifested in such movements as positivism, idealism, Marxism and contemporary linguistic analysis. Hempels's theory of scientific explanation, the claims of cybernetics the rise of an analytic philosophy of action and the revival of (...)
  33. Explanation and Understanding.von Wright Georg Henrik - 2008 - Routledge.
    This volume distinguishes between two main traditions in the philosophy of science - the aristotelian, with its stress on explanation in terms of purpose and intentionality, and the galilean, which takes causal explanation as primary. It then traces the complex history of these competing traditions as they are manifested in such movements as positivism, idealism, Marxism and contemporary linguistic analysis. Hempels's theory of scientific explanation, the claims of cybernetics the rise of an analytic philosophy of action and the revival of (...)
  34. Understanding, Explanation, and Unification.Victor Gijsbers - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):516-522.
  35. Quantum Mechanics' and 'Scientific Explanation 'An Explanatory Strategy Aiming at Providing 'Understanding'.Pandora Hadzidaki - 2008 - Science and Education 17 (1):49-73.
    Empirical studies persistently indicate that the usual explanatory strategies used in quantum mechanics (QM) instruction fail, in general, to yield understanding. In this study we propose an instructional intervention, which (a) incorporates into its subject matter a critical comparison of QM scientific content with the fundamental epistemological and ontological commitments of the prominent philosophical theories of explanation - a weak form of which we meet in QM teaching; (b) illuminates the reasons of their failure; and (c) implements an explanatory strategy (...)
  36. A Problem-Solving Account of Scientific Explanation.Gary Hardcastle - manuscript
    An account of scientific explanation is presented according to which (1) scientific explanation consists in solving “insight” problems (Metcalfe and Wiebe 1984) and (2) understanding is the result of solving such problems. The theory is pragmatic; it draws upon van Fraassen’s (1977, 1980) insights, avoids the objections to pragmatic accounts offered by Kitcher and Salmon (1987), and relates scientific explanation directly to understanding. The theory also accommodates cases of explanatory asymmetry and intuitively legitimate rejections of explanation requests.
  37. Explanation, Understanding, and Unrealistic Models.Frank Hindriks - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):523-531.
  38. Jaspers on Explaining and Understanding in Psychiatry.Christoph Hoerl - 2013 - In Thomas Fuchs & Giovanni Stanghellini (eds.), One Hundred Years of Karl Jaspers' General Psychopathology. Oxford University Press.
    This chapter offers an interpretation of Jaspers’ distinction between explaining and understanding, which relates this distinction to that between general and singular causal claims. Put briefly, I suggest that when Jaspers talks about (mere) explanation, what he has in mind are general causal claims linking types of events. Understanding, by contrast, is concerned with singular causation in the psychological domain. Furthermore, I also suggest that Jaspers thinks that only understanding makes manifest what causation between one element of a person’s mental (...)
  39. Explanation, Generality and Understanding.C. A. Hooker - 1980 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 58 (3):284 – 290.
  40. Invariance, Explanation, and Understanding.Paul Humphreys - 2006 - Metascience 15 (1):39-66.
  41. Explanation and Understanding Revisited: Bohman and the New Philosophy of Social Science. [REVIEW]David Ingram - 1997 - Human Studies 20 (4):413-428.
    James Bohman has succeeded in reinvigorating the old debate over explanation and understanding by situating it within contemporary discussions about sociological indeterminacy and complexity. I argue that Bohman's preference for a paradigm based on Habermas's theory of communicative action is justifiable given the explanatory deficiencies of ethnomethodological, rational choice, rule-based, and functionalist methodologies. Yet I do not share his belief that the paradigm is preferable to less formalized models of interpretation.
  42. The Nature of Scientific Thinking: On Interpretation, Explanation, and Understanding. [REVIEW]Lina Jansson - 2015 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 29 (2):218-221.
  43. Understanding and Explanation in Sociology and Social Anthropology.Ian C. Jarvie - 1970 - In Robert Borger (ed.), Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences. Cambridge University Press. pp. 231--48.
  44. The Role of Explanation in Understanding.K. Khalifa - 2013 - 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 (...)
  45. Must Understanding Be Coherent?Kareem Khalifa - 2016 - In Stephen Grimm, Christoph Baumberger & Sabine Ammon (eds.), Explaining understanding: new perspectives from epistemology and philosophy of science. London, UK: Routledge. pp. 139-164.
    Several authors suggest that understanding and epistemic coherence are tightly connected. Using an account of understanding that makes no appeal to coherence, I explain away the intuitions that motivate this position. I then show that the leading coherentist epistemologies only place plausible constraints on understanding insofar as they replicate my own account’s requirements. I conclude that understanding is only superficially coherent.
  46. Inaugurating Understanding or Repackaging Explanation?Kareem Khalifa - 2012 - 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.
  47. Understanding, Knowledge, and Scientific Antirealism.Kareem Khalifa - 2011 - 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 (...)
  48. Understanding as Explanatory Knowledge: The Case of Bjorken Scaling.Kareem Khalifa & Michael Gadomski - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):384-392.
    In this paper, we develop and refine the idea that understanding is a species of explanatory knowledge. Specifically, we defend the idea that S understands why p if and only if S knows that p, and, for some q, S’s true belief that q correctly explains p is produced/maintained by reliable explanatory evaluation. We then show how this model explains the reception of James Bjorken’s explanation of scaling by the broader physics community in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The (...)
  49. How Organization Explains.Jaakko Kuorikoski & Petri Ylikoski - 2013 - In Vassilios Karakostas & Dennis Dieks (eds.), Epsa11 Perspectives and Foundational Problems in Philosophy of Science. Springer. pp. 69--80.
    Constitutivemechanisticexplanationsexplainapropertyofawholewith the properties of its parts and their organization. Carl Craver’s mutual manipulability criterion for constitutive relevance only captures the explanatory relevance of causal properties of parts and leaves the organization side of mechanistic explanation unaccounted for. We use the contrastive counterfactual theory of explanation and an account of the dimensions of organization to build a typology of organizational dependence. We analyse organizational explanations in terms of such dependencies and emphasize the importance of modular organizational motifs. We apply this framework (...)
  50. Can Understanding Undermine Explanation? The Confused Experience of Revolution.Charles Kurzman - 2004 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34 (3):328-351.
    This article makes six points, using evidence from the Iranian Revolution of 1979: (1) Causal mechanisms, indeed all explanations, imply certain inner states on the part of individuals. (2) The experience of revolution is dominated by confusion. (3) People involved in revolutions act largely in response to their best guesses about how others are going to act. (4) These guesses and responses can shift swiftly and dramatically, in ways that participants and observers cannot predict. (5) Explanation involves retroactive prediction: it (...)
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