It is widely acknowledged that a central aim of science is to achieve understanding of the world around us, and that possessing such understanding is highly important in our present-day society. But what does it mean to achieve this understanding? What precisely is scientific understanding? These are philosophical questions that have not yet received satisfactory answers. While there has been an ongoing debate about the nature of scientific explanation since Carl Hempel advanced his covering-law model in 1948, the related notion of understanding has been largely neglected, because most philosophers regarded understanding as merely a subjective by-product of objective explanations. By contrast, this book puts scientific understanding center stage. It is primarily a philosophical study, but also contains detailed historical case studies of scientific practice. In contrast to most existing studies in this area, it takes into account scientists' views and analyzes their role in scientific debate and development.
The aim of Understanding Scientific Understanding is to develop and defend a philosophical theory of scientific understanding that can describe and explain the historical variation of criteria for understanding actually employed by scientists. The theory does justice to the insights of such famous physicists as Werner Heisenberg and Richard Feynman, while bringing much-needed conceptual rigor to their intuitions. The scope of the proposed account of understanding is the natural sciences: while the detailed case studies derive from physics, examples from other sciences are presented to illustrate its wider validity.
Henk W. de Regt is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Department of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His main research interest is scientific understanding and explanation. He has published on these topics in journals such as Philosophy of Science, Synthese, and Studies in History and Philosophy of Science. Together with Sabina Leonelli and Kai Eigner, he edited the volume Scientific Understanding: Philosophical Perspectives, which was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2009.