Seminar on Understanding


  • Friday 03 November 2017 from 11 am. 
Workshop "Understanding from models"  at the IHPST, Salle de Conférence (2nd Floor, 13 rue du Four, 75006, Paris). 
  • Friday 22 December 2017 from 2 pm. 
Igor Douven, Directeur de Recherche (CNRS/ Institut des Sciences humaines et sociales (INSHS)), Title of his talk: Best, second-best, and good-enough explanations: How they matter to reasoning. (Abstract)
  • Wednesday 28 February 2018 at 2 PM.
Gerhard Schurz ((Duesseldorf Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (DCLPS) -TBA), at the IHPST, Salle de Conférence (2nd Floor, 13 rue du Four, 75006, Paris). Title of his talk: Understanding and Unification. (Abstract
  • Wednesday 28 March and Thursday 29 March 2018 at 2 PM.

Kareem Khalifa (Middlebury College), at the IHPST, Salle de Conférence (2nd Floor, 13 rue du Four, 75006, Paris). Title of the talk: TBA.

  • Thursday 05 April 2018 at 2 PM.
David E. Over, Emeritus Professor at Psychology Department, Durham University, Title of his talk: TBA.



Many philosophers seem to think that explanation is intimately tied to understanding, specifically many hold that the goal of scientific explanation is to provide understanding of physical phenomena or in general of nature (de Regt 2013; Hempel 1965; Strevens 2008, 2013). The views on the relation between explanation and understanding range from largely dismissive (Hempel 1965; Trout 2002) which see the scientific understanding as a pragmatic or psychological by-product of explanation which is not a proper subject of philosophical inquiry, and which should rather belong to psychology; to proposals to treat the understanding independently from the explanation i.e. that there could be understanding without explanation (Lipton 2009; Schurz and Lambert 1994; Newman 2012, 2017). The views in between these two extremes can best be formulated as a claim that there could not be understanding without explanation (Strevens 2008, 2013; Khalifa 2012). Despite these deep differences, there are few issues about understanding that every theory of explanation has to deal with, such as its factivity, i.e. in virtue of what the understanding is true (Grimm 2006, 2010), or if understanding is some kind of knowledge, then can it be gettierized? One thing that is common to all these views is that the understanding is notoriously difficult to define, regardless if it’s inseparable from explanation, if it is its by product, or completely independent from explanation, or if it’s just a subjective mental state or a kind of knowledge. 

A third way to think about understanding one can find in cognitive science, where the issue can best be formulated in terms of the relationship between understanding and intuitive and scientific theorizing (see Carey 2009; Spelke 2000; Keil 2003), or the kind of understanding involved in text comprehension (see Ferstl 2007 or Hruby 2009 for a review), insight problem solving (see Shen et al. 2013) and more recently, through the modelling of its phenomenological dimension (Mizraji & Lin, 2017). 

In this seminar we treat the understanding from all three perspectives, i.e. in philosophy of science as an issue of the relation between explanation and understanding, in epistemology as an issue of knowledge and understanding, and in cognitive science as an issue of comprehension or mental grasping. 

If you want to receive updates about the seminar schedule and other activities, please send an email to Daniel Kostic (, Marie Michon ( or Matias Osta Velez ( 

 The seminar is funded by the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union's H2020-MSCA-IF-2015 Programme under REA grant agreement n° (703662); project: Philosophical Foundations of Topological Explanations (Proposal acronym: TOPEX).


Daniel Kostic, IHPST (CNRS/ Université Paris I).

Philippe Huneman, IHPST (CNRS/ Université Paris I). 

Matias Osta Velez, IHPST (CNRS/ Université Paris I). 

Marie Michon, IHPST (CNRS/ Université Paris I).