From Explanation to Understanding: Normativity Lost?

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 50 (3):327-343 (2019)
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Abstract

In recent years, scientific understanding has become a focus of attention in philosophy of science. Since understanding is typically associated with the pragmatic and psychological dimensions of explanation, shifting the focus from explanation to understanding may induce a shift from accounts that embody normative ideals to accounts that provide accurate descriptions of scientific practice. Not surprisingly, many ‘friends of understanding’ sympathize with a naturalistic approach to the philosophy of science. However, this raises the question of whether the proposed theories of understanding can still have normative power. In this paper I address this question by examining two theories of scientific understanding: Jan Faye’s pragmatic-rhetorical theory and my own contextual theory of scientific understanding. I argue that both theories leave room for normativity, despite their naturalistic tendencies. The normative power of my contextual theory is illustrated with a case study of the chemical revolution.

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Citations of this work

Understanding physics: ‘What?’, ‘Why?’, and ‘How?’.Mario Hubert - 2021 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 11 (3):1-36.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - University of Chicago Press.
How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
True Enough.Catherine Z. Elgin - 2017 - Cambridge: MIT Press.

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