Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 10, pp 2807–2831 | Cite as

Understanding as compression

  • Daniel A. WilkenfeldEmail author


What is understanding? My goal in this paper is to lay out a new approach to this question and clarify how that approach deals with certain issues. The claim is that understanding is a matter of compressing information about the understood so that it can be mentally useful. On this account, understanding amounts to having a representational kernel and the ability to use it to generate the information one needs regarding the target phenomenon. I argue that this ambitious new account can accommodate much of the data that has motivated theories of understanding in philosophy of science, and can also be generally applicable in epistemology and daily life as well.


Explanation Understanding Philosophy of science Compression Epistemology 



I would like to thank the University of Pittsburgh, the Center for Philosophy of Science (and all its Autumn 2017 fellows), and in particular Edouard Machery, Colin Allen, Stewart Shapiro, Pablo Acuña, and Kareem Khalifa for invaluable written feedback. I also thank Tania Lombrozo for helpful conversation, and several people for help proofreading.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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