Understanding phenomena


The literature on the nature of understanding can be divided into two broad camps. Explanationists believe that it is knowledge of explanations that is key to understanding. In contrast, their manipulationist rivals maintain that understanding essentially involves an ability to manipulate certain representations. The aim of this paper is to provide a novel knowledge based account of understanding. More specifically, it proposes an account of maximal understanding of a given phenomenon in terms of fully comprehensive and maximally well-connected knowledge of it and of degrees of understanding in terms of approximations to such knowledge. It is completed by a contextualist semantics for outright attributions of understanding according to which an attribution of understanding is true of one just in case one knows enough about it to perform some contextually determined task. It is argued that this account has an edge over both its explanationist and manipulationist competitors.



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Christoph Kelp
University of Glasgow