Explanation and Understanding


Date: 23-25 May 2018

Organization: the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science (Ghent University) and the Research Group Philosophy of Science and Technology (VU University Amsterdam).

Workshop chairs: Henk de Regt (Amsterdam), Dingmar van Eck (Ghent) & Erik Weber (Ghent).

Local organising team: Roxan Degeyter, Stef Frijters, Julie Mennes, Pawel Pawlowski,  Dingmar van Eck, Erik Weber & Dietlinde Wouters.


Science aims, inter alia, for explanation and one of the aims of explanation is to provide understanding. But how to account for this link between explanation and understanding? Most earlier accounts of explanation either took understanding to be of little philosophical interest – just a psychological phenomenon without epistemic import – or considered the notion redundant – everything philosophically interesting could be captured with explanatory concepts, making ideas on understanding superfluous. Either way, for a long time the philosophy of science by and large ignored understanding, focusing on explanation instead. Things are very different now: the last two decades have seen a flourishing philosophical literature on the relation between explanation and understanding. And perspectives diverge greatly: while some argue that current ideas about understanding offer nothing distinctively new and relevant over and above explanatory concepts, others stress the distinctive role of understanding vis-à-vis explanation, and yet others make the case that one can have understanding without explanation.

Most of this recent literature appears to focus on full-fledged theories and explanations, neglecting other aspects of the explanatory enterprise. For instance, how does the idea of understanding play out in the context of explorative phases preceding scientific discovery, or in (the early phases of) discovery? What is the (epistemic) role of understanding in the usage of how-possibly models or hypothetical models to explain aspects of real systems? How does understanding relate to abstraction and idealization practices?

For this workshop we invite submissions that address questions regarding the relation between explanation and understanding. Topics include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Relations between types of understanding and specific accounts of explanation
  • Comparisons between accounts of scientific understanding
  • The role of understanding in scientific exploration and discovery
  • The role of understanding in modeling practices
  • Discipline-related differences in scientific explanation and understanding
  • The possibility of understanding without explanation.
  • Explanations in practical contexts (e.g. diagnosis, failure analysis, redesign, …)

Keynote speakers

Matteo Colombo (Tilburg)

Caterina Marchionni (Helsinki)

Alexander Reutlinger  (München)

Abstract submission

We welcome submissions on any topic that fits into the scope as described above. Send your abstract of 300 to 500 words to: lrr@ugent.be  before 15 March 2018. Notification of acceptance: 31 March 2018.


Wednesday May 23

14.00-15.10 Keynote 1 – Alexander Reutlinger, Understanding and non-causal explanation

15.10-15.45 break

Understanding, explanation and explanatory power

  • 15.45-16.30 Daniel Kostic, Minimal structure explanations, scientific understanding and explanatory depth
  • 16.30-17.15 Philippe Verreault-Julien and Vaios Koliofotis, Hamilton’s rule: understanding the disagreement about its explanatoriness
  • 17.15-18.00 Naftali Weinberger, Explaining how

19.00 dinner

Thursday May 24

9.30-10.40 Keynote 2 – Matteo Colombo, I know that I know nothing. Explanation, Prejudice, and Intellectual Humility

10.40-11.00 break

Understanding differences in understanding across the sciences I

  • 11.00-11.45 Roxan Degeyter and Erik Weber, Explanation and understanding in population genetics
  • 11.45-12.30 Leen De Vreese, Risk factors, explanation and scientific understanding
  • 12.30-13.30 break

Explanation and understanding: conceptual issues I

  • 13.30-14.15 Henk de Regt, TBA
  • 14.15-15.00 Sven Delarivière, Explicating understanding: a conceptual framework and functionalist approach
  • 15.00-15.45 Johannes Findl, The relationship between scientific understanding and explanation

15.45-16.15 break

Understanding differences in understanding across the sciences II

  • 16.15-17.00 Armond Duwell, Modal Understanding: The Real Deal
  • 17.00-17.45 Joachim Frans, The ontic-epistemic distinction and the study of explanatory proofs

Friday May 25

9.30-10.40 Keynote 3 – Caterina Marchionni, Explanatory norms as frictions to integration: the case of economics and its neighbors

10.40-11.00 break

Explanation and understanding: conceptual issues II

  • 11.00-11.45 Federica Malfatti, On the possibility of understanding without (true) explanation
  • 11.45-12.30 Paul Roth, The Structure of Structure: How Kuhn Establishes that Science Requires Historical Explanation

12.30-13.30 break

Understanding and modeling

  • 13.30-14.15 Insa Lawler, Understanding in the case of holistically distorted models and how-possibly models
  • 14.15-15.00 Emily Sullivan-Mumm, Understanding from machine learning models
  • 15.00-15.45 Martin Zach, Factive understanding with model sketches

15.45-16.15 break

Understanding differences in understanding across the sciences III

  • 16.15-17.00 Luana Poliseli, Explanation and scientific understanding: lessons from a study in pollination service modeling
  • 17.00-17.45 Anne Ruth-Mackor, Explanation and understanding in criminal law. Some reflections on the likeliness and the loveliness of scenario’s


Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature (KANTL), Koningstraat 18, Ghent, Belgium.


Registration is possible from 1 April 2018. The registration fee will be 50€. Coffee, lunches and the workshop dinner are included in this fee.

Book of abstracts

The book of abstracts is available here.