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Synthese

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Understanding why, knowing why, and cognitive achievements

  • Insa Lawler
Article

Abstract

Duncan Pritchard argues that a feature that sets understanding-why apart from knowledge-why is that whereas (I) understanding-why is a kind of cognitive achievement in a strong sense, (II) knowledge-why is not such a kind. I argue that (I) is false and that (II) is true. (I) is false because understanding-why featuring rudimentary explanations and understanding-why concerning very simple causal connections are not cognitive achievements in a strong sense. Knowledge-why is not a kind of cognitive achievement in a strong sense for the same reason knowledge-that is not. The latter thesis requires showing that having (p because q) information is not equivalent to having information about facts or principles that establish the explanatory connections between the phenomena in question. I make a positive case for this claim and defend it against objections. Based on this argument, I identify an alternative feature that sets understanding-why apart from knowledge-why: The minimal condition for understanding-why and knowledge-why with respect to their contents is not identical. Knowing why p merely requires information that some explanatorily relevant dependency obtains. Understanding why p additionally requires information about facts or principles that establish the explanatory connections between the phenomena in question.

Keywords

Understanding why Knowing why Cognitive achievement Reductionism about understanding why Causal explanation 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Raphael van Riel, Duncan Pritchard, and Christian Nimtz for discussing parts of this paper with me, as well as Peter Brössel, the audience of my talk at the workshop ‘The varieties of knowing how’ in Essen, and the participants of Thomas Spitzley’s and Christian Nimtz’s research group meetings for comments on parts of this paper.

Funding Support for this research by a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for a research stay at the University of Edinburgh, and by the Volkswagen Foundation for the project ‘A Study in Explanatory Power’ is gratefully acknowledged.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy at the Faculty of Cultural and Social ScienceUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria

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