Varieties of Understanding

Abstract: A number of writers have urged that the goal of inquiry is to acquire understanding rather than knowledge. The nature of understanding in science has long been subject to philosophical investigation, under the rubric of the philosophy of scientific explanation. But what about those fields of inquiry outside of science, such as mathematics, literary criticism, the interpretation of others' behavior, art appreciation, the interpretation of sacred texts, the rightness and wrongness of human actions, and inquiry into the meaning of life (insofar as these are not covert forms of scientific inquiry)? I will argue that insights from recent work on scientific explanation can be applied to unravel partly the nature of understanding in other realms.

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