Understanding why, knowing why, and cognitive achievements
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.
KeywordsUnderstanding why Knowing why Cognitive achievement Reductionism about understanding why Causal explanation
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.
- Achinstein, P. (1983). The nature of explanation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Baumberger, C., & Brun, G. (2017). Dimensions of objectual understanding. In S. Grimm, C. Baumberger, & S. Ammon (Eds.), Explaining understanding: New perspectives from epistemology and philosophy of science (pp. 165–189). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Carter, J. A., & Gordon, E. C. (2014). Objectual understanding and the value problem. American Philosophical Quarterly, 51(1), 1–13.Google Scholar
- Greco, J. (2014). Episteme: Knowledge and understanding. In K. Timpe, & C. A. Boyd (Eds.), Virtues and their vices (pp. 287–302). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Grimm, S. R. (2011). Understanding. In D. Pritchard & S. Bernecker (Eds.), The Routledge companion to epistemology (pp. 84–94). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Higginbotham, J. (1996). The semantics of questions. In S. Lappin (Ed.), The handbook of contemporary semantic theory (pp. 61–383). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lewis, D. (Ed.). (1986). Causal explanation. In Philosophical papers. Volume II (pp. 214–240). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lipton, P. (2004). Inference to the best explanation (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Strevens, M. (2016). Causal understanding versus predictive know-how. Manuscript of the talk ‘Causal understanding versus predictive know-how’ (Workshop ‘Explanation and understanding’ at Aarhus University (2016)), pp. 1–20.Google Scholar
- Schaffer, J. (2009). Knowing the answer redux: Replies to Brogaard and Kallestrup. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 78(2), 477–500.Google Scholar
- Schaffer, J. (2013). Causal contextualism. In M. Blaauw (Ed.), Contrastivism in philosophy (pp. 35–63). Oxford, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Turri, J. (2011). Manifest failure: The Gettier problem solved. Philosophers’ Imprint, 11(8), 1–11.Google Scholar