•  352
    The epistemic value of understanding
    Philosophy of Science 76 (5): 585-597. 2009.
    This article analyzes the epistemic value of understanding and offers an account of the role of understanding in science. First, I discuss the objectivist view of the relation between explanation and understanding, defended by Carl Hempel and J. D. Trout. I challenge this view by arguing that pragmatic aspects of explanation are crucial for achieving the epistemic aims of science. Subsequently, I present an analysis of these pragmatic aspects in terms of ‘intelligibility’ and a contextual accoun…Read more
  •  273
    A Contextual Approach to Scientific Understanding
    Synthese 144 (1): 137-170. 2005.
    Achieving understanding of nature is one of the aims of science. In this paper we offer an analysis of the nature of scientific understanding that accords with actual scientific practice and accommodates the historical diversity of conceptions of understanding. Its core idea is a general criterion for the intelligibility of scientific theories that is essentially contextual: which theories conform to this criterion depends on contextual factors, and can change in the course of time. Our analysis…Read more
  •  205
    Visualization as a Tool for Understanding
    Perspectives on Science 22 (3): 377-396. 2014.
    The act of understanding is at the heart of all scientific activity; without it any ostensibly scientific activity is as sterile as that of a high school student substituting numbers into a formula. Ordinary language often uses visual metaphors in connection with understanding. When we finally understand what someone is trying to point out to us, we exclaim: “I see!” When someone really understands a subject matter, we say that she has “insight”. There appears to be a link between visualization …Read more
  •  197
    Scientific Understanding: Philosophical Perspectives (edited book)
    with Sabina Leonelli and Kai Eigner
    University of Pittsburgh Press. 2008.
    The chapters in this book highlight the multifaceted nature of the process of scientific research.
  •  194
    Scientific understanding: truth or dare?
    Synthese 192 (12): 3781-3797. 2015.
    It is often claimed—especially by scientific realists—that science provides understanding of the world only if its theories are (at least approximately) true descriptions of reality, in its observable as well as unobservable aspects. This paper critically examines this ‘realist thesis’ concerning understanding. A crucial problem for the realist thesis is that (as study of the history and practice of science reveals) understanding is frequently obtained via theories and models that appear to be h…Read more
  •  162
    Discussion note: Making sense of understanding
    Philosophy of Science 71 (1): 98-109. 2004.
    J.D. Trout (2002) presents a challenge to all theorists of scientific explanation who appeal to the notion of understanding. Trout denounces understanding as irrelevant, if not dangerous, from an epistemic perspective and he endorses a radically objectivist view of explanation instead. In this note I accept Trout's challenge. I criticize his argument and defend a non-objectivist, pragmatic conception of understanding that is epistemically relevant.
  •  161
    Introduction: Simulation, Visualization, and Scientific Understanding
    Perspectives on Science 22 (3): 311-317. 2014.
    Only a decade ago, the topic of scientific understanding remained one that philosophers of science largely avoided. Earlier discussions by Hempel and others had branded scientific understanding a mere subjective state or feeling, one to be studied by psychologists perhaps, but not an important or fruitful focus for philosophers of science. Even as scientific explanation became a central topic in philosophy of science, little attention was given to understanding. Over the last decade, however, th…Read more
  •  145
    Erwin Schrödinger, Anschaulichkeit, and quantum theory
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 28 (4): 461-481. 1997.
    Early in 1926 Erwin Schrodinger presented his famous theory of wave mechanics to account for atomic phenomena. It is often assumed that Schrodinger’s work reflected a realist philosophy. In this article, I will argue that this assumption is incorrect.
  •  124
    Spacetime Visualisation and the Intelligibility of Physical Theories
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 32 (2): 243-265. 2001.
  •  122
    A Davidsonian argument against incommensurability
    International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (2). 2002.
    The writings of Kuhn and Feyerabend on incommensurability challenged the idea that science progresses towards the truth. Davidson famously criticized the notion of incommensurability, arguing that it is incoherent. Davidson's argument was in turn criticized by Kuhn and others. This article argues that, although at least some of the objections raised against Davidson's argument are formally correct, they do it very little harm. What remains of the argument once the objections have been taken acco…Read more
  •  113
    Understanding and explanation: Living apart together?
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3): 505-509. 2013.
  •  103
    Philosophy and the kinetic theory of gases
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (1): 31-62. 1996.
    This article examines the role of philosophy in the development of the kinetic theory of gases. Two opposing accounts of this role, by Peter Clark and John Nyhof, are discussed and criticized. Contrary to both accounts, it is argued that philosophical views of scientists can fundamentally influence the results of their scientific work. This claim is supported by a detailed analysis of the philosophical views of Maxwell and Boltzmann, and of their work on the kinetic theory, especially concerning…Read more
  •  102
    Reduction and understanding
    Foundations of Science 3 (1): 45-59. 1998.
    Reductionism, in the sense of the doctrine that theories on different levels of reality should exhibit strict and general relations of deducibility, faces well-known difficulties. Nevertheless, the idea that deeper layers of reality are responsible for what happens at higher levels is well-entrenched in scientific practice. We argue that the intuition behind this idea is adequately captured by the notion of supervenience: the physical state of the fundamental physical layers fixes the states of …Read more
  •  92
    Terra incognita: Explanation and reduction in earth science
    with Maarten G. Kleinhans and Chris J. J. Buskes
    International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 19 (3). 2005.
    The present paper presents a philosophical analysis of earth science, a discipline that has received relatively little attention from philosophers of science. We focus on the question of whether earth science can be reduced to allegedly more fundamental sciences, such as chemistry or physics. In order to answer this question, we investigate the aims and methods of earth science, the laws and theories used by earth scientists, and the nature of earth-scientific explanation. Our analysis leads to …Read more
  •  86
    Understanding, Values, and the Aims of Science
    Philosophy of Science 87 (5): 921-932. 2020.
    The understanding that comes with scientific explanation is regarded as one of the central epistemic aims of science. In earlier work I have argued that scientists achieve understanding of phenomen...
  •  83
    Pauli versus Heisenberg: A case study of the heuristic role of philosophy (review)
    Foundations of Science 4 (4): 405-426. 1999.
    This article analyses an episode in the earlyhistory of quantum theory: the controversy betweenPauli and Heisenberg about the anomalous Zeemaneffect, which was a main stumbling block for the oldquantum theory of Bohr. It is argued that theindividual philosophical views of both Pauli andHeisenberg directed their attempts to solve theanomaly and decisively influenced the solutions theyproposed. The results of this case study arecompared with the assertions of four theories ofscientific change, nam…Read more
  •  69
    Ludwig Boltzmann's Bildtheorie and Scientific Understanding
    Synthese 119 (1-2): 113-134. 1999.
    Boltzmann’s Bildtheorie, which asserts that scientific theories are ‘mental pictures’ having at best a partial similarity to reality, was a core element of his philosophy of science. The aim of this article is to draw attention to a neglected aspect of it, namely its significance for the issue of scientific explanation and understanding, regarded by Boltzmann as central goals of science. I argue that, in addition to being an epistemological view of the interpretation of scientific theories Boltz…Read more
  •  66
    I argue that scientific explanation has a pragmatic dimension that is epistemically relevant. Philosophers with an objectivist approach to scientific explanation (e.g. Hempel, Trout) hold that the pragmatic aspects of explanation do not have any epistemic import. I argue against this view by focusing on the role of models in scientific explanation. Applying recent accounts of modelling (Cartwright, Morgan and Morrison) to a case-study of nineteenth-century physics, I analyse the pragmatic dimens…Read more
  •  65
    Wesley salmon's complementarity thesis: Causalism and unificationism reconciled?
    International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 20 (2). 2006.
    In his later years, Wesley Salmon believed that the two dominant models of scientific explanation (his own causal-mechanical model and the unificationist model) were reconcilable. Salmon envisaged a 'new consensus' about explanation: he suggested that the two models represent two 'complementary' types of explanation, which may 'peacefully coexist' because they illuminate different aspects of scientific understanding. This paper traces the development of Salmon's ideas and presents a critical ana…Read more
  •  60
    Interpreting theories without a spacetime
    European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8 (3): 631-670. 2018.
    In this paper we have two aims: first, to draw attention to the close connexion between interpretation and scientific understanding; second, to give a detailed account of how theories without a spacetime can be interpreted, and so of how they can be understood. In order to do so, we of course need an account of what is meant by a theory ‘without a spacetime’: which we also provide in this paper. We describe three tools, used by physicists, aimed at constructing interpretations which are adequate…Read more
  •  54
    Understanding is a central aim of science and highly important in present-day society. But what precisely is scientific understanding and how can it be achieved? This book answers these questions, through philosophical analysis and historical case studies, and presents a philosophical theory of scientific understanding that highlights its contextual nature.
  •  48
    Review of "Quantum Dialogue - The Making of a Revolution" by Mara Beller
  •  48
    While the relation between visualization and scientific understanding has been a topic of long-standing discussion, recent developments in physics have pushed the boundaries of this debate to new and still unexplored realms. For it is claimed that, in certain theories of quantum gravity, spacetime ‘disappears’: and this suggests that one may have sensible physical theories in which spacetime is completely absent. This makes the philosophical question whether such theories are intelligible, even …Read more
  •  47
    Are Physicists’Philosophies Irrelevant Idiosyncrasies?
    Philosophica 58 (2): 125-151. 1996.
  •  46
    This paper approaches the scientific realism question from a naturalistic perspective. On the basis of a historical case study of the work of James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann on the kinetic theory of gases, it shows that scientists’ views about the epistemological status of theories and models typically interact with their scientific results. Subsequently, the implications of this result for the current realism debate are analysed. The case study supports Giere’s moderately realist view …Read more
  •  43
    Focusing on scientific understanding
    with Sabina Leonelli and K. Eigner
    In Henk W. De Regt, Sabina Leonelli & Kai Eigner (eds.), Scientific Understanding: Philosophical Perspectives, University of Pittsburgh Press. 2008.
  •  34
    From Explanation to Understanding: Normativity Lost?
    Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 50 (3): 327-343. 2019.
    In recent years, scientific understanding has become a focus of attention in philosophy of science. Since understanding is typically associated with the pragmatic and psychological dimensions of explanation, shifting the focus from explanation to understanding may induce a shift from accounts that embody normative ideals to accounts that provide accurate descriptions of scientific practice. Not surprisingly, many ‘friends of understanding’ sympathize with a naturalistic approach to the philosoph…Read more
  •  34
    Beauty in physical science circa 2000
    International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (1). 2002.
    This Article does not have an abstract