Scientific progress: Knowledge versus understanding

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Abstract
What is scientific progress? On Alexander Bird’s epistemic account of scientific progress, an episode in science is progressive precisely when there is more scientific knowledge at the end of the episode than at the beginning. Using Bird’s epistemic account as a foil, this paper develops an alternative understanding-based account on which an episode in science is progressive precisely when scientists grasp how to correctly explain or predict more aspects of the world at the end of the episode than at the beginning. This account is shown to be superior to the epistemic account by examining cases in which knowledge and understanding come apart. In these cases, it is argued that scientific progress matches increases in scientific understanding rather than accumulations of knowledge. In addition, considerations having to do with minimalist idealizations, pragmatic virtues, and epistemic value all favor this understanding-based account over its epistemic counterpart.
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Archival date: 2016-02-18
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2016-02-04

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