I hope this question doesn't conflict with the ''don't ask questions that are too general'' in the guidelines, but I have a question that I think goes under analytical philosophy, if I am not wrong, that I can't seem to find anywhere on the internet. The question is: what does it mean to understand? It seems like there are so many other questions that hinges on this question; so many other question that will become more intelligible if this question is answered. For example, if I am wondering whether or not we will be able to understand everything there is to understand in the universe, i.e. that nothing will remain mysterious in the end, it all depends on what is meant by understanding. It can't be the same as predicting, because one may be able to predict something without necessarilty understanding it. It can't be the same as saying some words, because one may recite something someone else have said without understanding. It can't be having the correct ''images'' showing up in your mind, because the images different people use to represent the same knowledge could probably be different. I could give more of such common-sense suggestions that seem to be wrong, but I seem to end up thinking that the only possibility to explain understanding is that it doesn't exist ''in it self'' in any form (any brain state or constellation of states), but that its closest stigmatized relative, ''convincing'' is the only real part of it, and that it masks itself as understanding. Convincing is easier to operationalize, such as ''a person's grouping concepts in a certain way and attaching a relatively higher emotional commitment to it than other things'' or that ''a person is more prone to actively defend x''. But I still haven't given up hope on the semantics of understanding, and I am hoping you can give some sort of answer.

Thank you for the question and your reflections on some possibilities and suggestions! I believe that in our ordinary usage in English, the term "understand" often suggests both a level of comprehension as well as some degree of empathy or sympathy (but not necessarily endorsement). A policeman might say: "I understand why you were driving dangerously. If I caught my husband cheating on me, I would probably drive quite dangerously myself. But in that case, we would both be wrong in endangering others." In philosophy, when we speak in terms of understanding some state of affairs, we usually are speaking in terms of comprehension, rather than expressing any sympathy. What kind of comprehension is involved will vary depending on the state of affairs. I might understand that 6 is the smallest perfect number by knowing that a perfect number is equal to the sum of its divisors, including one, but not itself and 6 equals 1+2+3. I might rightly claim to understand that my colleague is a materialist, but without knowing why. As for a further definition of what understanding or comprehension is, I suspect we will only be able to invoke synonyms (to understand a state of affairs is to conceive of it, to comprehend it, to know something of the causes involved or to know something about why it is what it is, and so on...). Sometimes in philosophy we wind up with primitive concepts, concepts that cannot be further explained in terms clearer, alternative concepts. So, we may make some progress in analyzing some concepts, for example (arguably) to know that X is to believe that X and to be justified in that belief, and the justification for that belief does not involve any essential reasoning with a false premise. But certain concepts like 'understand' or 'belief' or (to take a popular term in the current literature) 'consciousness' may have to be taken as primitive and 'defined' ostensively (by offering examples) but not unpacked and analyzed as in a 'bachelor' is an 'unmarried male.'

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