Scientific Understanding – Its Nature, Values and Meaning

Anna Elisabeth Höhl

In my research project I investigate the concept of Scientific Understanding. The general aim of science is to provide us with an Understanding of our world, to enable us to understand natural and social phenomena. But what exactly does it mean when scientists claim that they now understand a phenomenon? What is Scientific Understanding? Is it just a special form of knowledge, or is more required to achieve Understanding? Does Understanding have a tacit component? Does tacit knowledge play a role in the context of Scientific Understanding? How is the concept of Understanding related to other concepts like explanation, theory, or truth? Two main concepts of Scientific Understanding are discussed in the existing literature, namely objectual understanding and explanatory understanding. Which of these accounts accommodates the nature of Scientific Understanding, is it just explanatory, or objectual? Does this differentiation make sense at all? Are these two accounts incompatible?
Regarding Scientific Understanding, many of the questions are far away from being answered or have not been addressed, yet. I examine these and develop an account of Scientific Understanding. Especially, I focus on the role of models, which are all false in some way, used in science to provide us with an Understanding of a certain phenomenon. Additionally, I am concerned with the question of how epistemic as well as non-epistemic values can and do influence Scientific Understanding.
By now, it is recognized that Understanding is a central epistemic aim of science and that, therefore, philosophy of science should put much more emphasize on this topic. Many links to Scientific Understanding can and should be examined. I will join the new debate about it and hopefully gain new insights about the nature of Scientific Understanding, its role and significance in science and society.