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Understanding, normativity, and scientific practice

LEWENDON-EVANS, HARRY,EDWARD (2018) Understanding, normativity, and scientific practice. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Understanding, Normativity, and Scientific Practice

Harry Lewendon-Evans

PhD Thesis
Department of Philosophy
Durham University
Recent work in epistemology and philosophy of science has argued that understanding is an important cognitive achievement that philosophers should seek to address for its own sake. This thesis outlines and defends a new account of scientific understanding that analyses the concept of understanding in terms of the concept of normativity. The central claim is that to understand means to grasp something in the light of norms. The thesis is divided into two parts: Part I (chapters one to three) addresses the question of the agency of understanding and Part II (chapters four to five) focuses on the vehicles of scientific understanding. Chapter One begins with an account of understanding drawn from the work of Martin Heidegger, which presents understanding as a practical, normative capacity for making sense of entities. Chapter Two builds on Robert Brandom’s normative inferentialism to argue that conceptual understanding is grounded in inferential rules embedded within norm-governed, social practices. Chapter Three argues that normativity should be located in the intersubjective nature of social practices. The chapters in Part II draw on and extend the account of understanding developed in Part I by focusing on how models and explanations function within scientific practice to facilitate scientific understanding. Chapter Four investigates the nature of model-based understanding. It defends the claim that constructing and using models enables a form of conceptual articulation which facilitates scientific understanding by rendering scientific phenomena intelligible. Chapter Five considers the connection between understanding and explanation through the role of explanatory discourse in scientific practice. I argue that the function of explanations is to sculpt and make explicit the norms of intelligibility required for scientific understanding. This thesis concludes that scientific understanding is an inherently norm-governed phenomenon that is unintelligible without reference to the normative dimension of our social and scientific practices.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Understanding, scientific understanding, normativity, practices
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Sep 2018 15:14

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