Understanding does not depend on (causal) explanation


One can find in the literature two sets of views concerning the relationship between understanding and explanation: that one understands only if 1) one has knowledge of causes and 2) that knowledge is provided by an explanation. Taken together, these tenets characterize what I call the narrow knowledge account of understanding (narrow KAU). While the first tenet has recently come under severe attack, the second has been more resistant to change. I argue that we have good reasons to reject it on the basis of theoretical models that provide how-possibly explanations. These models, while they do not explain in the strict (narrow KAU) sense, afford understanding. In response, I propose an alternative epistemology of understanding, broad KAU, that takes cases of theoretical modelling into account.

Philippe Verreault-Julien

I work on the epistemology of modelling, of understanding, and of explanation.