Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 389–405 | Cite as

Understanding for Hire

  • Daniel A. WilkenfeldEmail author
  • Christa M. Johnson


In this paper, we will explore one way in which understanding can—and, we will argue, should—be valuable. We will do this by drawing on what has been said (primarily in Pritchard et al.: The nature and value of knowledge: Three investigations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010) about the different ways knowledge can be valuable. Our main contribution will be to identify one heretofore undiscussed way knowledge could be valuable, but isn’t—specifically, having value to someone other than the understander. We suggest that it is a desideratum on an account of understanding that understanding have the specified type of value; our basis for this claim will come from recent work in cognitive psychology. This desideratum can then be used to measure the success of various accounts of understanding. We argue that accounts of understanding that have a particular structure will predict (and perhaps explain) why understanding has that sort of value. For good measure, we then engage in a bit of a literature review, investigating which extant accounts of understanding satisfy this desideratum (spoiler: some do and some don’t).


Understanding Explanation Epistemology Philosophy of science Value theory 



The authors would like to thank Kareem Khalifa and Henk de Regt for their assistance, the Center for Philosophy of Science, and the journal referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.California State University Long BeachLong BeachUSA

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