From antiquity to the end of the twentieth century, philosophical discussions of understanding remained undeveloped, guided by a 'received view' that takes understanding to be nothing more than knowledge of an explanation. More recently, however, this received view has been criticized, and bold new philosophical proposals about understanding have emerged in its place. In this book, Kareem Khalifa argues that the received view should be revised but not abandoned. In doing so, he clarifies and answers the most central questions in (...) this burgeoning field of philosophical research: what kinds of cognitive abilities are involved in understanding? What is the relationship between the understanding that explanations provide and the understanding that experts have of broader subject matters? Can there be understanding without explanation? How can one understand something on the basis of falsehoods? Is understanding a species of knowledge? What is the value of understanding? (shrink)
Responding to recent concerns about the reliability of the published literature in psychology and other disciplines, we formed the X-Phi Replicability Project to estimate the reproducibility of experimental philosophy. Drawing on a representative sample of 40 x-phi studies published between 2003 and 2015, we enlisted 20 research teams across 8 countries to conduct a high-quality replication of each study in order to compare the results to the original published findings. We found that x-phi studies – as represented in our sample (...) – successfully replicated about 70% of the time. We discuss possible reasons for this relatively high replication rate in the field of experimental philosophy and offer suggestions for best research practices going forward. (shrink)
We provide three innovations to recent debates about whether topological or “network” explanations are a species of mechanistic explanation. First, we more precisely characterize the requirement that all topological explanations are mechanistic explanations and show scientific practice to belie such a requirement. Second, we provide an account that unifies mechanistic and non-mechanistic topological explanations, thereby enriching both the mechanist and autonomist programs by highlighting when and where topological explanations are mechanistic. Third, we defend this view against some powerful mechanist objections. (...) We conclude from this that topological explanations are autonomous from their mechanistic counterparts. (shrink)
Recent literature on non-causal explanation raises the question as to whether explanatory monism, the thesis that all explanations submit to the same analysis, is true. The leading monist proposal holds that all explanations support change-relating counterfactuals. We provide several objections to this monist position. 1Introduction2Change-Relating Monism's Three Problems3Dependency and Monism: Unhappy Together4Another Challenge: Counterfactual Incidentalism4.1High-grade necessity4.2Unity in diversity5Conclusion.
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.
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 (...) understanding of why p , there exists a correct and reasonably good explanation that would provide greater understanding of p. (shrink)
Jonathan Kvanvig has argued that “objectual” understanding, i.e. the understanding we have of a large body of information, cannot be reduced to explanatory concepts. In this paper, I show that Kvanvig fails to establish this point, and then propose a framework for reducing objectual understanding to explanatory understanding.
Recently, it has been debated as to whether understanding is a species of explanatory knowledge. Those who deny this claim frequently argue that understanding, unlike knowledge, can be lucky. In this paper I argue that current arguments do not support this alleged compatibility between understanding and epistemic luck. First, I argue that understanding requires reliable explanatory evaluation, yet the putative examples of lucky understanding underspecify the extent to which subjects possess this ability. In the course of defending this claim, I (...) also provide a new account of the kind of ‘grasping’ taken to be central to understanding. Second, I show that putative examples of lucky understanding unwittingly deploy a kind of luck that is compatible with knowledge. Finally, appealing to a number of works on explanation and its attendant epistemology, I argue that alleged instances of lucky understanding that overcome these two obstacles will invariably violate certain norms of explanatory inquiry – our paradigmatic understanding-oriented practice. By contrast, knowledge of the same information is immune to these criticisms. Consequently, if understanding is environmentally lucky, it is always inferior to the understanding that a corresponding case of knowledge would provide. (shrink)
Proponents of ontic conceptions of explanation require all explanations to be backed by causal, constitutive, or similar relations. Among their justifications is that only ontic conceptions can do justice to the ‘directionality’ of explanation, i.e., the requirement that if X explains Y , then not-Y does not explain not-X . Using topological explanations as an illustration, we argue that non-ontic conceptions of explanation have ample resources for securing the directionality of explanations. The different ways in which neuroscientists rely on multiplexes (...) involving both functional and anatomical connectivity in their topological explanations vividly illustrate why ontic considerations are frequently (if not always) irrelevant to explanatory directionality. Therefore, directionality poses no problem to non-ontic conceptions of explanation. (shrink)
In epistemology and philosophy of science, there has been substantial debate about truth’s relation to understanding. “Non-factivists” hold that radical departures from the truth are not always barriers to understanding; “quasi-factivists” demur. The most discussed example concerns scientists’ use of idealizations in certain derivations of the ideal gas law from statistical mechanics. Yet, these discussions have suffered from confusions about the relevant science, as well as conceptual confusions. Addressing this example, we shall argue that the ideal gas law is best (...) interpreted as favoring non-factivism about understanding, but only after delving a bit deeper into the statistical mechanics that has informed these arguments and stating more precisely what non-factivism entails. Along the way, we indicate where earlier discussions have gone astray, and highlight how a naturalistic approach furnishes more nuanced normative theses about the interaction of rationality, understanding, and epistemic value. (shrink)
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 (...) with q, and S can identify the features that make q the best explanation of p. On this analysis, understanding is reducible to knowing that p and that q is the best available explanation of p. (shrink)
We offer a new account of the role of values in theory choice that captures a temporal dimension to the values themselves. We argue that non-epistemic values sometimes serve as “inquiry tickets,” justifying scientists’ pursuit of certain questions in the short run, while the answers to those questions mitigate transient underdetermination in the long run. Our account of inquiry tickets shows that the role of non-epistemic values need not be restricted to belief or acceptance in order to be relevant to (...) hypothesis choice: the relevance of non-epistemic values to a particular cognitive attitude with respect to h vary over time. (shrink)
Explanation is asymmetric: if A explains B, then B does not explain A. Tradition- ally, the asymmetry of explanation was thought to favor causal accounts of explanation over their rivals, such as those that take explanations to be inferences. In this paper, we develop a new inferential approach to explanation that outperforms causal approaches in accounting for the asymmetry of explanation.
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 (...) historical episode is interesting because Bjorken’s explanation initially did not provide understanding to other physicists, but was subsequently deemed intelligible when Feynman provided a physical interpretation that led to experimental tests that vindicated Bjorken’s model. Finally, we argue that other philosophical models of scientific understanding are best construed as limiting cases of our more general model. (shrink)
The underconsideration argument against inference to the best explanation and scientific realism holds that scientists are not warranted in inferring that the best theory is true, because scientists only ever conceive of a small handful of theories at one time, and as a result, they may not have considered a true theory. However, antirealists have not developed a detailed alternative account of why explanatory inference nevertheless appears so central to scientific practice. In this paper, I provide new defences against some (...) recent objections to the underconsideration argument, while also developing an account of explanatory inference that both survives these criticisms and does not entail realism. (shrink)
In this paper, we argue that a person is obligated to explain why p just in case she has a role-responsibility to answer the question “Why p?”. This entails that the normative force of explanatory obligations is fundamentally social. We contrast our view with other accounts of explanatory obligations or the so-called “need for explanation,” in which the aforementioned normative force is epistemic, determined by an inquirer's interests, or a combination thereof. We argue that our account outperforms these alternatives.
We provide two programmatic frameworks for integrating philosophical research on understanding with complementary work in computer science, psychology, and neuroscience. First, philosophical theories of understanding have consequences about how agents should reason if they are to understand that can then be evaluated empirically by their concordance with findings in scientific studies of reasoning. Second, these studies use a multitude of explanations, and a philosophical theory of understanding is well suited to integrating these explanations in illuminating ways.
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.
Several argue that truth cannot be science’s sole epistemic goal, for it would fail to do justice to several scientific practices that advance understanding. I challenge these arguments, but only after making a small concession: science’s sole epistemic goal is not truth as such; rather, its goal is finding true answers to relevant questions. Using examples from the natural and social sciences, I then show that scientific understanding’s epistemically valuable features are either true answers to relevant questions or a means (...) thereof. (shrink)
Many epistemologists endorse true-belief monism, the thesis that only true beliefs are of fundamental epistemic value. However, this view faces formidable counterexamples. In response to these challenges, we alter the letter, but not the spirit, of true-belief monism. We dub the resulting view “inquisitive truth monism”, which holds that only true answers to relevant questions are of fundamental epistemic value. Which questions are relevant is a function of an inquirer’s perspective, which is characterized by his/her interests, social role, and background (...) assumptions. Using examples of several different scientific practices, we argue that inquisitive truth monism outperforms true-belief monism. (shrink)
In his “EMU and Inference,” Mark Newman European Journal for Philosophy of Science, 4:55–74, 2014 provides several interesting challenges to my explanatory model of understanding :15–37, 2012). I offer three replies to Newman’s paper. First, Newman incorrectly attributes to EMU an overly restrictive view about the role of abilities in understanding. Second, his main argument against EMU rests on this incorrect attribution, and would still face difficulties even if this attribution were correct. Third, contrary to his stated ambitions, his own, (...) inferential model of understanding does not have any distinctive advantages over EMU. These three points defend EMU against Newman’s objections. (shrink)
In this essay, we extend earlier inferentialist-expressivist treatments of traditional logical, semantic, modal, and representational vocabulary (Brandom 1994, 2008, 2015; Peregrin 2014) to explanatory vocabulary. From this perspective, Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) appears to be an obvious starting point. In its simplest formulation, IBE has the form: A best explains why B, B; so A. It thereby captures one of the central inferential features of explanation. An inferentialist-expressivist treatment of “best explains” would treat it as a logical operator. (...) Analogous to the inferentialist-expressivist treatment of other logical operators, this essay aims to provide introduction and elimination rules for “best explains.” Indeed, by exhibiting a form of detachment, IBE superficially looks like an elimination rule. The sequent calculus LEA+, described in Section 5 below, makes good on this intuition. By showing how “A best explains why B” is related to the underlying, scientific inference “A, so B,” we can purchase the inference ticket of IBE for no more than the cost of science’s material inferences. (shrink)
Criticism is a staple of the scientific enterprise and of the social epistemology of science. Philosophical discussions of criticism have traditionally focused on its roles in relation to objectivity, confirmation, and theory choice. However, attention to criticism and to criticizability should also inform our thinking about scientific pursuits: the allocation of resources with the aim of developing scientific tools and ideas. In this paper, we offer an account of scientific pursuitworthiness which takes criticizability as its starting point. We call this (...) the apokritic model of pursuit. Its core ideas are that pursuits are practices governed by norms for asking and answering questions, and that criticism arises from the breach of these norms. We illustrate and advertise our approach using examples from institutional grant review, neuroscience, and sociology. We show that the apokritic model can unify several indices of criticizability, that it can account for the importance of criticizing pursuits in scientific practice, and that it can offer ameliorative advice to erstwhile pursuers. (shrink)
Explanatory contrastivists hold that we often explain phenomena of the form p rather than q. In this paper, I present a new, social‐epistemological model of contrastive explanation—accountabilism. Specifically, my view is inspired by social‐scientific research that treats explanations fundamentally as accounts; that is, communicative actions that restore one's social status when charged with questionable behaviour. After developing this model, I show how accountabilism provides a more comprehensive model of contrastive explanation than the causal models of contrastive explanation that are currently (...) en vogue. (shrink)
In this essay, I provide normative guidelines for developing a philosophically interesting and plausible version of social constructivism as a philosophy of science, wherein science aims for social-epistemic values rather than for truth or empirical adequacy. This view is more plausible than the more radical constructivist claim that scientific facts are constructed. It is also more interesting than the modest constructivist claim that representations of such facts emerge in social contexts, as it provides a genuine rival to the scientific axiologies (...) of scientific realists and constructive empiricists. I further contrast my view with positions holding that the aims of science are context dependent, that the unit of normative analysis is the scientific community, and that the aims of science are non-epistemic social values. (shrink)
We argue that there is no general theory of explanation that spans the sciences, mathematics, and ethics, etc. More specifically, there is no good reason to believe that substantive and domain-invariant constraints on explanatory information exist. Using Nickel (Noûs 44(2):305–328, 2010 ) as an exemplar of the contrary, generalist position, we first show that Nickel’s arguments rest on several ambiguities, and then show that even when these ambiguities are charitably corrected, Nickel’s defense of general theories of explanation is inadequate along (...) several different dimensions. Specifically, we argue that Nickel’s argument has three fatal flaws. First, he has not provided any compelling illustrations of domain-invariant constraints on explanation. Second, in order to fend off the most vehement skeptics of domain-invariant theories of explanation, Nickel must beg all of the important questions. Third, Nickel’s examples of explanations from different domains with common explanatory structure rely on incorrect formulations of the explanations under consideration, circular justifications, and/or a mischaracterization of the position Nickel intends to critique. Given that the best and most elaborate defense of the generalist position fails in so many ways, we conclude that the standard practice in philosophy (and in philosophy of science in particular), which is to develop theories of explanation that are tailored to specific domains, still is justified. For those who want to buy into a more ambitious project: beware of the costs! (shrink)
Many humanists and social scientists argue—if not assume—that race's centrality in social-scientific research provides an empirical justification for its reality as a constructed kind. In this paper, we first regiment these arguments, and then show that they face significant challenges. Specifically, race-concepts' social-scientific success is compatible with race being neither constructed nor real.
Critics of the erotetic model of explanation question its ability to discriminate significant from spurious explanations. One response to these criticisms has been to impose contextual restrictions on a case-by-case basis. In this article, the author argues that these approaches have overestimated the role of interests at the expense of other contextual aspects characteristic of social-scientific explanation. For this reason, he shows how procedures of measuring occupational status and social mobility affected different aspects of one explanation that Peter Blau and (...) Otis Dudley Duncan offered in their sociological classic, The American Occupational Structure. He uses the findings from this case study to meet objections to the erotetic model. Key Words: explanation • social science • erotetic • why-question • context. (shrink)
This article examines a series of Schelling-like models of residential segregation, in which agents prefer to be in the minority. We demonstrate that as long as agents care about the characteristics of their wider community, they tend to end up in a segregated state. We then investigate the process that causes this and conclude that the result hinges on the similarity of informational states among agents of the same type. This is quite different from Schelling-like behavior and suggests that segregation (...) is an instance of macrobehavior that can arise from a wide variety of micromotives. (shrink)
Economists use the term ‘stylized fact’ in many contexts, though the meaning of this phrase and the motivation for using such a concept is unclear. In this paper, we provide a philosophical analysis of stylized facts, which aims to be methodologically interesting and useful. While our framework applies to all principled uses of stylized facts, we illustrate its core features by applying it to Nicholas Kaldor's initial and exemplary use of stylized facts in growth economics.
Our best social scientific theories try to tell us something about the social world. But is talk of a “social world” a metaphor that we ought not take too seriously? In particular, do the denizens of the social world—cultural values like the Protestant work ethic, firms like ExxonMobil, norms like standards of dress and behavior, institutions like the legal system, teams like FC Barcelona, conventions like marriages—exist? The question is not merely academic. Social scientists use these different social entities to (...) explain social phenomena such as the rise of capitalism, the decline in oil prices, or the effect of unions on the sports labor market. But how could these explanations possibly work if social entities don’t exist? (shrink)
Many have argued that unified theories ought to be pursued wherever possible. We deny this on the basis of social-epistemological and decision-theoretic considerations. Consequently, those seeking a more ubiquitous role for unification must either attend to the scientific community’s social structure in greater detail than has been the case, and/or radically revise their conception of unification.
Many epistemologists take Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) to be “fundamental.” For instance, Lycan (1988, 128) writes that “all justified reasoning is fundamentally explanatory reasoning.” Conee and Feldman (2008, 97) concur: “fundamental epistemic principles are principles of best explanation.” Call them fundamentalists. They assert that nothing deeper could justify IBE, as is typically assumed of rules of deductive inference, such as modus ponens. However, logicians account for modus ponens with the valuation rule for the material conditional. By contrast, fundamentalists (...) account for IBE with an ill-defined set of relations that happen to furnish their favorite set of inductive inferences. To our eye, this seems a little too convenient—there is too much room for ad hoc, just-so stories about the “striking” correspondence between our explanatory and inductive practices. We will argue that the (explanatory) pluralism adopted by the leading theorists of the best explanation—philosophers of science—undermines fundamentalism. Section 1 clarifies fundamentalism’s key tenets. Section 2 presents pluralism’s challenge to fundamentalism. Section 3 considers a potential fundamentalist reply to this challenge. Sections 4 through 6 canvass the leading candidates for developing this fundamentalist reply, showing each to be unsatisfactory. (shrink)
"Philosophy of music" is generally regarded as philosophical theorizing about music. Interpreting various German thinkers from the last three centuries through hermeneutical and neo-pragmatist lenses, Bowie reverses this order, focusing "on the philosophy which is conveyed by music itself" . In particular, Bowie uses music as a starting point for philosophical reflections on meaning and the role of philosophy in late modernity.Regarding meaning, Bowie uses ideas about music to argue that semantics should replace representation with expression, social practice, and inference (...) as its core concepts; that rhythm is the basis for discursive thought; and that music provides a set of communal responses presupposed by linguistic practice. Bowie justifies these bold claims on the grounds that "any scientific account of what language is necessarily involves the circularity of using language to explain language" . The viciousness of this circle is unclear; Bowie's positive argument suggests that avoiding this circle requires language's meaning to be grounded in something non-linguistic . But nothing about scientific explanations of language precludes this. Surely we can use a scientific language to say that. (shrink)