Among philosophers of science there seems to be a general consensus that understanding represents a species of knowledge, but virtually every major epistemologist who has thought seriously about understanding has come to deny this claim. Against this prevailing tide in epistemology, I argue that understanding is, in fact, a species of knowledge: just like knowledge, for example, understanding is not transparent and can be Gettiered. I then consider how the psychological act of "grasping" that seems to be characteristic of understanding (...) differs from the sort of psychological act that often characterizes knowledge. Zagzebski's account Kvanvig's account Two problems Comanche cases Unreliable sources of information The upper-right quadrant So is understanding a species of knowledge? A false choice. (shrink)
Among contemporary epistemologists and scholars of ancient philosophy, one often hears that transmitting propositional knowledge by testimony is usually easy and straightforward, but transmitting understanding and know-how by testimony is usually difficult or simply impossible. Further provocative conclusions are then sometimes drawn from these claims: for instance, that know-how and understanding are not types of propositional knowledge. In contrast, I argue that transmitting propositional knowledge is sometimes easy and sometimes hard, just as transmitting know how and understanding is sometimes easy (...) and sometimes hard. No general lessons can be drawn about the relationships among propositional knowledge, know how, and understanding by considering the case of testimony alone. (shrink)
Over the last several years a number of leading philosophers – including Catherine Elgin, Linda Zagzebski, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Duncan Pritchard – have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the contemporary focus on knowledge in epistemology and have attempted to “recover” the notion of understanding. According to some of these philosophers, in fact, understanding deserves not just to be recovered, but to supplant knowledge as the focus of epistemological inquiry. This entry considers some of the main reasons why philosophers have taken understanding (...) to be more valuable than knowledge, focusing on claims that it is more transparent, that it better reflects or mirrors the world, and that it is a greater intellectual achievement. (shrink)
I defend the claim that understanding is the goal of explanation against various persistent criticisms, especially the criticism that understanding is not truth-connected in the appropriate way, and hence is a merely psychological state. Part of the reason why understanding has been dismissed as the goal of explanation, I suggest, is because the psychological dimension of the goal of explanation has itself been almost entirely neglected. In turn, the psychological dimension of understanding—the Aha! experience, the sense that a certain explanation (...) “feels right”, and so on—has been conspicuously overemphasized. I try to correct for both of these exaggerations. Just as the goal of explanation includes a richer psychological—including phenomenological—dimension than is generally acknowledged, so too understanding has a stronger truth connection than is generally acknowledged.Keywords: Understanding; Explanation; Philosophy of science; Epistemology. (shrink)
Defenders of pragmatic encroachment in epistemology (or what I call practicalism) need to address two main problems. First, the view seems to imply, absurdly, that knowledge can come and go quite easily—in particular, that it might come and go along with our variable practical interests. We can call this the stability problem. Second, there seems to be no fully satisfying way of explaining whose practical interests matter. We can call this the “whose stakes?” problem. I argue that both problems can (...) be addressed in roughly the same terms. More exactly, I argue that by first clarifying the whose stakes? problem an answer to the stability problem naturally falls out. (shrink)
According to ‘orthodox’ epistemology, it has recently been said, whether or not a true belief amounts to knowledge depends exclusively on truth-related factors: for example, on whether the true belief was formed in a reliable way, or was supported by good evidence, and so on. Jason Stanley refers to this as the ‘intellectualist’ component of orthodox epistemology, and Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath describe it as orthodox epistemology’s commitment to a ‘purely epistemic’ account of knowledge — that is, an account (...) of knowledge where only truth-related factors figure in whether or not a person knows. In the first part of this paper I try to clarify the intellectualist thesis and to distinguish what I take to be its two main strains. In the remainder of the paper I then take a more critical turn and argue that even if, as a matter of fact, traditional epistemology has endorsed intellectualism in both of its strains, this is a mistake on the part of the tradition. At least one way of understanding intellectualism should be rejected and its practicalist counterpart should be accepted instead. (shrink)
I explore the extent to which the epistemic state of understanding is transparent to the one who understands. Against several contemporary epistemologists, I argue that it is not transparent in the way that many have claimed, drawing on results from developmental psychology, animal cognition, and other fields.
Despite a recent surge of interest in philosophy as a way of life, it is not clear what it might mean for philosophy to guide one's life, or how a “philosophical” way of life might differ from a life guided by religion, tradition, or some other source. We argue against John Cooper that spiritual exercises figure crucially in the idea of philosophy as a way of life—not just in the ancient world but also today, at least if the idea is (...) to be viable. In order to make the case we attempt to clarify the nature of spiritual exercises, and to explore a number of fundamental questions, such as “What role does reason have in helping us to live well?” Here we distinguish between the discerning and motivational powers of reason, and argue that both elements have limitations as guides to living well. (shrink)
What is it that makes someone wise, or one person wiser than another? I argue that wisdom consists in knowledge of how to live well, and that this knowledge of how to live well is constituted by various further kinds of knowledge. One concern for this view is that knowledge is not needed for wisdom but rather some state short of knowledge, such as having rational or justified beliefs about various topics. Another concern is that the emphasis on knowing how (...) to live well fails to do justice to the ancient tradition of ‘theoretical wisdom’. I address both of these concerns in filling out the account. (shrink)
What does it mean to understand something? What types of understanding can be distinguished? Is understanding always provided by explanations? And how is it related to knowledge? Such questions have attracted considerable interest in epistemology recently. These discussions, however, have not yet engaged insights about explanations and theories developed in philosophy of science. Conversely, philosophers of science have debated the nature of explanations and theories, while dismissing understanding as a psychological by-product. In this book, epistemologists and philosophers of science together (...) address basic questions about the nature of understanding, providing a new overview of the field. False theories, cognitive bias, transparency, coherency, and other important issues are discussed. Its 15 original chapters are essential reading for researchers and graduate students interested in the current debates about understanding. (shrink)
Explanatory inquiry characteristically begins with a certain puzzlement about the world. But why do certain situations elicit our puzzlement while others leave us, in some epistemically relevant sense, cold? Moreover, what exactly is involved in the move from a state of puzzlement to a state where one's puzzlement is satisfied? In this paper I try to answer both of these questions. I also suggest ways in which our account of scientific rationality might benefit from having a better sense of the (...) kind of epistemic goal we are trying to realize, when we engage in our explanatory inquiries. Two Senses The Need for Explanation An Example Proto-understanding Conclusion CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
This essay presents an account of what it takes to live a philosophical way of life: practitioners must be committed to a worldview, structure their lives around it, and engage in truth‐directed practices. Contra John Cooper, it does not require that one’s life be solely guided by reason. Religious or tradition‐based ways of life count as truth directed as long as their practices are reasons responsive and would be truth directed if the claims made by their way of life are (...) correct. The essay argues that these three conditions can be met by progressors as well as sages. Making progress in how one acts in the world, and improving one’s understanding and direction through being part of a community is living a philosophical way of life. The offered view acknowledges more ways to develop the art of living and enables a broader range of people to count as living philosophically. (shrink)
Truth monism is the idea that only true beliefs are of fundamental epistemic value. The present paper considers three objections to truth monism, and argues that, while the truth monist has plausible responses to the first two objections, the third objection suggests that truth monism should be reformulated. On this reformulation, which we refer to as accuracy monism, the fundamental epistemic goal is accuracy, where accuracy is a matter of “getting it right.” The idea then developed is that accuracy is (...) a genus with several species. Believing truly is a prominent species, but it is not the only one. Finally, it is argued that accuracy monism is equally good or better than both traditional truth monism and its main dialectical rival, value pluralism, when it comes to satisfying three important axiological desiderata. (shrink)
In this paper I elucidate various ways in which understanding can be seen as an excellence of the mind or intellectual virtue. Along the way, I take up the neglected issue of what it might mean to be an “understanding person”—by which I mean not a person who understands a number of things about the natural world, but a person who steers clear of things like judgmentalism in her evaluation of other people, and thus is better able to take up (...) different perspectives and view them with a sympathetic eye. Being an understanding person in this sense seems to be a character-level virtue that interestingly combines moral and epistemic elements; it also seems to be a virtue particularly needed in our age of deep political division, where it is commonly said that failures of mutual understanding are partly to blame for this problem. (shrink)
I try to return the focus of the philosophy of history to the nature of understanding, with a particular emphasis on Louis Mink’s project of exploring how historical understanding compares to the understanding we find in the natural sciences. On the whole, I come to a conclusion that Mink almost certainly would not have liked: that the understanding offered by history has a very similar epistemic profile to the understanding offered by the sciences, a similarity that stems from the fact (...) that both are concerned with grasping how the objects of their study are structured, or how the various elements of the things they study depend upon and relate to one another. At the same time, however, I claim that historical inquiry naturally puts us in a position to acquire further epistemic goods, including the old-fashioned epistemic good of wisdom, which is plausibly constituted by knowledge of how to live well. This is something the natural sciences cannot offer, and it is part of the reason why history is such an important form of inquiry. (shrink)
This collection offers original work on the nature of understanding by a range of distinguished philosophers. Although some of the essays are by scholars well known for their work on understanding, many of the essays bring entirely new figures to the discussion.
In this volume some of the leading philosophers, psychologists, and theologians in the world shed light on the various ways in which we understand the world, pushing debates on this issue to new levels of sophistication and insight.
This paper offers and analysis of Ernest Sosa's Virtue Perspectivism. Although Sosa has been credited with fathering the influential contemporary movement known as Virtue Epistemology, I argue that Sosa imprudently abandons the reliabilist-based insights of Virtue Epistemology in favor of a reflection-based, "perspectival"' view. Sosa's mixed allegiance to reliabilist-based and reflection-based views of knowledge, in fact, leads to an unwelcome tension in his thought which can be relieved by recognizing that his reflection-based view is in fact an account of the (...) cognitive state of understanding, rather than an account of knowledge. Sosa makes matters difficult for himself because he expects too much, as it were, from the concept of knowledge, and in the process burdens his view with elements of reflection it does not require. To solve the problem, I suggest that Sosa needs to develop a two-tiered epistemology which recognizes that knowledge, on the one hand, and understanding, on the other, both have necessary and sufficient conditions unique to themselves. (shrink)
In this paper I consider what it is that makes certain topics or questions epistemically interesting. Getting clear about this issue, I argue, is not only interesting in its own right, but also helps to shed light on increasingly important and perplexing questions in the epistemological literature: e.g., questions concerning how to think about ‘the epistemic point of view,’ as well as questions concerning what is most worthy of our intellectual attention and why.
Despite the recent claims of some prominent Catholic philosophers, I argue that Cardinal Newman's writings are in fact largely compatible with the contemporary movement in the philosophy of religion known as Reformed Epistemology, and in particular with the work of Alvin Plantinga. I first show how the thought of both Newman and Plantinga was molded in response to the "evidentialist" claims of John Locke. I then examine the details of Newman's response, especially as seen in his Essay in Aid of (...) A Grammar of Assent, suggesting that many of Newman's central ideas closely mirror Plantinga's. Finally, I argue that ifNewman and Plantinga part ways at any point, it is with respect to the basicality of specifically Christian (as opposed to theistic) belief. (shrink)
Among epistemologists and philosophers of science, one often hears that someone with understanding is able to “see” or “grasp” how the elements of a subject “cohere” or “fit together”—but just what is involved in the seeing or the grasping is usually left to the imagination. I argue that the most productive way to make progress on this issue is by first identifying the kind of explanation-seeking why-questions that drive the search for understanding in the first place. In particular, I suggest (...) that if we can get a good grip on why a situation stands in need of explanation for us in the first place, then we will in turn be in a good position to determine how we might satisfy that need. In this respect, I argue that a situation stands in need of explanation for us, and therefore inspires our why-questions, in virtue of our sense that there are various ways that we think the situation might have been. If a situation stands in need of explanation for this reason, moreover, then in order to satisfy the need for explanation our objective will be to identify what the difference between these alternatives depends on. To say only this much still leaves a great deal underdetermined, however, for we might “identify” what the difference depends on in a number of different ways: for example, by having a true belief about what the difference depends on, by knowing this on the basis of testimony, and so on. What is distinctive about the state of understanding, I suggest, is the particular way in which we identify what the difference depends on: namely, by grasping what the difference depends on. I explore at length what exactly this grasping amounts to. (shrink)
I argue that mystical experience essentially involves two aspects: an element of direct encounter with God, and an element of union with God. The framework I use to make sense of is taken largely from William Alston’s magisterial book Perceiving God. While I believe Alston’s view is correct in many essentials, the main problem with the account is that it divorces the idea of encountering or perceiving God from the idea of being united with God. What I argue, on the (...) contrary, is that because our experience of God is an experience of a relationship-seeking, personal being, it brings with it an important element of union that Alston overlooks. (shrink)
Explanatory inquiry characteristically begins with a certain puzzlement about the world. But why do certain situations elicit our puzzlement while others leave us, in some epistemically relevant sense, cold? Moreover, what exactly is involved in the move from a state of puzzlement to a state where one’s puzzlement is satisfied? In this paper I try to make sense of these questions by focusing on two case studies, one from the popular literature on string theory and one from recent debates in (...) the philosophy of mind. (shrink)
In this paper I consider the challenge to rational choice posed by the problem of value incommensurability, and argue that incommensurabilists misrepresentour position as practical reasoners. In essence, I claim that reason has considerably more to work with than their arguments suggest, and that as a result it is possible for us to compare even the deepest values. To say that it is possible for us to compare values is not to say that it is always easy, however, or that (...) thequestion of how best to characterize the common measure that allows for these comparisons isn’t open to vigorous dispute. But I argue that it is one thing to saythat the measure is obscure or that it guides us only imprecisely—and quite another to claim that it is conceptually impossible to weigh the deep values in lightof a common standard. (shrink)
This two-volume reference work attempts to bring together all of the notable essays on Hume’s political thought during this century, a whopping 59 pieces ranging in time from 1906 to 1995. The essays have not been reformatted but are rather facsimiles of the original versions, virtually all of which are gathered from journals. The overall shape of the volumes thus resembles something a graduate research assistant might produce, if in addition to a xerox machine he also had access to a (...) good binder. The collection is intended, however, not merely for scholars without the benefit of assistants, but more importantly for those whose libraries do not subscribe to all the journals from which these articles are culled. This is an admirable goal; however the considerable price tag places a significant onus on the volumes to prove their worthiness. (shrink)
Explanatory inquiry characteristically begins with a certain puzzlement about the world. But why do certain situations elicit our puzzlement (or curiosity) while others leave us, in some epistemically relevant sense, cold? Moreover, what exactly is involved in the move from a state of puzzlement to a state where one’s puzzlement is satisfied? In this paper I try to make sense of these questions by focusing on two case studies, one from the popular literature on string theory and one from recent (...) debates in the philosophy of mind. (shrink)
During his lifetime Wittgenstein published only two philosophical works: the Tractatus in 1922, and a nine-page article entitled “Some Remarks on Logical Form” in 1929. The Tractatus, of course, achieved legendary status even before it was published. SRLF, however, met a different fate, essentially falling stillborn from the press. To this day SRLF is generally overlooked in discussions of Wittgenstein—a fact especially remarkable in light of the tendency among Wittgensteinians to reverence the merest Zettel of the master. So why has (...) SRLF suffered from such neglect? It is true that later in life Wittgenstein rejected the article, but he made similar remarks about the Tractatus without causing philosophers to lose interest. (shrink)