The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Understanding is a psychological state in relation to an object or person whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to be able to deal adequately with that object.

Examples of understanding

For example, I understand the weather if I am able to predict and give an explanation of some of its features.

Or, a psychiatrist understands another person if he knows his anxieties and their causes, and can give him useful advice on how to minimise the anxiety.

I understand a command if I know who gave it, what is expected, and whether the command is legitimate.

Also one can understand a reasoning, an argument, and a language.

Is understanding definable?

It is difficult to define understanding, however. If we use the term 'concept', as above, the question then arises as to what is a concept? Is it an abstract thing? a brain pattern? A rule? Whatever definition is proposed, we can still ask how it is that we understand the thing that features in the definition: we can never satisfactorily define 'concept', still less use it to explain understanding.

We can instead use an operational or behavioural definition: we can say that somebody who reacts appropriately to X, understands X. For example, I understand Swahili if I correctly obey comands given in that language. However, this may not be an adequate definition. A computer can easily be programmed to react appropriately to simple commands. For most people, it would stretch the notion of understanding to still claim that under an operational definition, the computer understands speech.

See also

See also knowledge, epistemology, awareness, meaning and thought.

For a discussion of where understanding takes place and what the limits of understanding are, see the Chinese Room argument.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 13:15:36
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04