This study examines the conflation of terms such as “knowledge” and “understanding” in peer-reviewed literature, and tests the hypothesis that little current research clearly distinguishes between importantly distinct epistemic states. Two sets of data are presented from papers published in the journal Public Understanding of Science. In the first set, the digital text analysis tool, Voyant, is used to analyze all papers published in 2014 for the use of epistemic success terms. In the second set of data, all (...) papers published in Public Understanding of Science from 2010–2015 are systematically analyzed to identify instances in which epistemic states are empirically measured. The results indicate that epistemic success terms are inconsistently defined, and that measurement of understanding, in particular, is rarely achieved in public understanding of science studies. We suggest that more diligent attention to measuring understanding, as opposed to mere knowledge, will increase efficacy of scientific outreach and communication efforts. (shrink)
The paper provides a systematic overview of recent debates in epistemology and philosophy of science on the nature of understanding. We explain why philosophers have turned their attention to understanding and discuss conditions for “explanatory” understanding of why something is the case and for “objectual” understanding of a whole subject matter. The most debated conditions for these types of understanding roughly resemble the three traditional conditions for knowledge: truth, justification and belief. We discuss prominent views (...) about how to construe these conditions for understanding, whether understanding indeed requires conditions of all three types and whether additional conditions are needed. (shrink)
Many philosophers take understanding to be a distinctive kind of knowledge that involves grasping dependency relations; moreover, they hold it to be particularly valuable. This paper aims to investigate and address two well-known puzzles that arise from this conception: (1) the nature of understanding itself—in particular, the nature of “grasping”; (2) the source of understanding’s distinctive value. In what follows, I’ll argue that we can shed light on both puzzles by recognizing first, the importance of the distinction (...) between the act of coming to understand and the state of understanding; and second, that coming to understand is a creative act. (shrink)
Claims pertaining to understanding are made in a variety of contexts and ways. As a result, few in the philosophical literature have made an attempt to precisely characterize the state that is y understanding x. This paper builds an account that does just that. The account is motivated by two main observations. First, understanding x is somehow related to being able to manipulate x. Second, understanding is a mental phenomenon, and so what manipulations are required to (...) be an understander must only be mental manipulations. Combining these two insights, the paper builds an account (URM) of understanding as a certain representational capacity—specifically, understanding x involves possessing a representation of x that could be manipulated in useful ways. By tying understanding to representation, the account correctly identifies that understanding is a fundamentally cognitive achievement. However, by also demanding that which representations count as understanding-conferring be determined by their practical effects, URM captures the insight that understanding is vitally connected to practice. URM is fully general, and can apply equally well to understanding states of affairs, understanding events, and even understanding people and works of art. The ultimate test of URM is its applicability in actual scientific and philosophical discourse. To that end the paper discusses the importance of understanding in the philosophy of science, psychology, and computer science. (shrink)
Several authors suggest that understanding and epistemic coherence are tightly connected. Using an account of understanding that makes no appeal to coherence, I explain away the intuitions that motivate this position. I then show that the leading coherentist epistemologies only place plausible constraints on understanding insofar as they replicate my own account’s requirements. I conclude that understanding is only superficially coherent.
Scientific understanding, this paper argues, can be analyzed entirely in terms of a mental act of “grasping” and a notion of explanation. To understand why a phenomenon occurs is to grasp a correct explanation of the phenomenon. To understand a scientific theory is to be able to construct, or at least to grasp, a range of potential explanations in which that theory accounts for other phenomena. There is no route to scientific understanding, then, that does not go by (...) way of scientific explanation. (shrink)
In this chapter I will employ a well-known scientific research heuristic that studies how something works by focusing on circumstances in which it does not work. Rather than trying to describe what scientific understanding would ideally look like, I will try to learn something about it by observing mundane cases where understanding is partly illusory. My main thesis is that scientists are prone to the illusion of depth of understanding (IDU), and as a consequence they sometimes overestimate (...) the detail, coherence, and depth of their understanding. I will analyze the notion of understanding and its relation to a sense of understanding. In order to make plausible the claim that these are often disconnected, I will describe an interesting series of psychological experiments by Frank Keil and his coauthors that suggests that ordinary people routinely overestimate the depth of their understanding. en I will argue that we should take seriously the possibility that scientific cognition is also aðected by IDU and spell out some possible causes of explanatory illusions in science. I will conclude this chapter by discussing how scientific explanatory practices could be improved and how the philosophy of science might be able to contribute to this process. (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.
This paper examines Augustine’s views on language, learning, and testimony in De Magistro. It is often held that, in De Magistro, Augustine is especially concerned with explanatory understanding (a complex cognitive state characterized by its synoptic nature and awareness of explanatory relations) and that he thinks testimony is deficient in imparting explanatory understanding. I argue against this view and give a clear analysis of the different kinds of cognitive state Augustine is concerned with and a careful examination of (...) his arguments concerning the deficiencies of testimony in producing these cognitive states. (shrink)
In science and philosophy, a relatively demanding notion of understanding is of central interest: an epistemic subject understands a subject matter by means of a theory. This notion can be explicated in a way which resembles JTB analyses of knowledge. The explication requires that the theory answers to the facts, that the subject grasps the theory, that she is committed to the theory and that the theory is justified for her. In this paper, we focus on the justification condition (...) and argue that it can be analyzed with reference to the idea of a reflective equilibrium. (shrink)
In this paper, I propose that the debate in epistemology concerning the nature and value of understanding can shed light on the role of scientific idealizations in producing scientific understanding. In philosophy of science, the received view seems to be that understanding is a species of knowledge. On this view, understanding is factive just as knowledge is, i.e., if S knows that p, then p is true. Epistemologists, however, distinguish between different kinds of understanding. Among (...) epistemologists, there are those who think that a certain kind of understanding—objectual understanding—is not factive, and those who think that objectual understanding is quasi-factive. Those who think that understanding is not factive argue that scientific idealizations constitute cognitive success, which we then consider as instances of understanding, and yet they are not true. This paper is an attempt to draw lessons from this debate as they pertain to the role of idealizations in producing scientific understanding. I argue that scientific understanding is quasi-factive. (shrink)
Recently, several authors have argued that scientific understanding should be a new topic of philosophical research. In this article, I argue that the three most developed accounts of understanding--Grimm's, de Regt's, and de Regt and Dieks's--can be replaced by earlier accounts of scientific explanation without loss. Indeed, in some cases, such replacements have clear benefits.
If understanding is factive, the propositions that express an understanding are true. I argue that a factive conception of understanding is unduly restrictive. It neither reflects our practices in ascribing understanding nor does justice to contemporary science. For science uses idealizations and models that do not mirror the facts. Strictly speaking, they are false. By appeal to exemplification, I devise a more generous, flexible conception of understanding that accommodates science, reflects our practices, and shows a (...) sufficient but not slavish sensitivity to the facts. (shrink)
Recently, it has been debated as to whether understanding is a species of explanatory knowledge. Those who deny this claim frequently argue that understanding, unlike knowledge, can be lucky. In this paper I argue that current arguments do not support this alleged compatibility between understanding and epistemic luck. First, I argue that understanding requires reliable explanatory evaluation, yet the putative examples of lucky understanding underspecify the extent to which subjects possess this ability. In the course (...) of defending this claim, I also provide a new account of the kind of ‘grasping’ taken to be central to understanding. Second, I show that putative examples of lucky understanding unwittingly deploy a kind of luck that is compatible with knowledge. Finally, appealing to a number of works on explanation and its attendant epistemology, I argue that alleged instances of lucky understanding that overcome these two obstacles will invariably violate certain norms of explanatory inquiry – our paradigmatic understanding-oriented practice. By contrast, knowledge of the same information is immune to these criticisms. Consequently, if understanding is environmentally lucky, it is always inferior to the understanding that a corresponding case of knowledge would provide. (shrink)
The paper proposes a new reading of the Aufbau, one that contends that Carnap's epistemological project is not, or not only, to identify the conditions under which a system of purely structural definite descriptions can attain objectivity. Rather, the project is more ambitious: to determine the conditions that allow the concomitant attainment of objectivity and understanding. As such, it can, and perhaps should, be regarded as an attempt to refute a view elsewhere called Weylean skepticism, i.e., the view that (...) objectivity and understanding are opposite epistemic ideals of science. (shrink)
The etiology of a perceptual belief can seemingly affect its epistemic status. There are cases in which perceptual beliefs seem to be unjustified because the perceptual experiences on which they are based are caused, in part, by wishful thinking, or irrational prior beliefs. It has been argued that this is problematic for many internalist views in the epistemology of perception, especially those which postulate immediate perceptual justification. Such views are unable to account for the impact of an experience’s etiology on (...) its justificational status (see Markie (2005, 2006, 2013), McGrath (2013), Siegel (2012, 2013), and Vahid (2014)). -/- Our understanding of what we have been told can also be affected by, for example, wishful thinking or irrational background beliefs. I argue that testimonial beliefs based on such states of understanding can thus be rendered unjustified. This is problematic not only for internalist immediate justification views of testimony, but also for some externalist views, such as the form of proper functionalism endorsed by Burge (1993), and Graham (2010). The testimonial version of the argument from etiology, unlike the perceptual variant, does not rest on the controversial hypothesis that perception is cognitively penetrable. Furthermore, there is a stronger case for the claim that testimonial justification can be undermined by etiological effects since, I argue, testimonial beliefs can be based on the background mental states which affect our understanding of what is said, and our states of understanding are rationally assessable. (shrink)
Jonathan Kvanvig has argued that “objectual” understanding, i.e. the understanding we have of a large body of information, cannot be reduced to explanatory concepts. In this paper, I show that Kvanvig fails to establish this point, and then propose a framework for reducing objectual understanding to explanatory understanding.
There are two currently popular but quite different ways of answering the question of what constitutes personal identity: the one is usually called the psychological continuity theory (or Psychological View) and the other the narrative theory.1 Despite their differences, they do both claim to be providing an account—the correct account—of what makes someone the same person over time. Marya Schechtman has presented an important argument in this journal (Schechtman 2005) for a version of the narrative view (the ‘Self-Understanding View’) (...) over the psychological one, an argument which has received an overwhelmingly positive response from commentators (Gillett 2005; Heinemaa 2005; Phillips 2006). I wish to argue that .. (shrink)
In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest among epistemologists in the nature of understanding, with some authors arguing that understanding should replace knowledge as the primary focus of epistemology. But what is understanding? According to what is often called the standard view, understanding is a species of knowledge. Although this view has recently been challenged in various ways, even the critics of the standard view have assumed that understanding requires justification and belief. (...) I argue that it requires neither. If sound, these arguments have important upshots not only for the nature of understanding, but also for its distinctive epistemic value and its role in contemporary epistemology. (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)
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)
The everyday capacity to understand the mind, or 'mindreading', plays an enormous role in our ordinary lives. Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich provide a detailed and integrated account of the intricate web of mental components underlying this fascinating and multifarious skill. The imagination, they argue, is essential to understanding others, and there are special cognitive mechanisms for understanding oneself. The account that emerges has broad implications for longstanding philosophical debates over the status of folk psychology. Mindreading is another (...) trailblazing volume in the prestigious interdisciplinary Oxford Cognitive Science series. (shrink)
We explore the developmental paradox of false belief understanding. This paradox follows from the claim that young infants already have an understanding of false belief, despite the fact that they consistently fail the elicited-response false belief task. First, we argue that recent proposals to solve this paradox are unsatisfactory because they (i) try to give a full explanation of false belief understanding in terms of a single system, (ii) fail to provide psychological concepts that are sufficiently fine-grained (...) to capture the cognitive requirements for the various manifestations of false belief understanding, and (iii) ignore questions about system interaction. Second, we present a dual-system solution to the developmental paradox of false belief understanding that combines a layered model of perspective taking with an inhibition-selection-representation mechanism that operates on different levels. We discuss recent experimental findings that shed light on the interaction between these two systems, and suggest a number of directions for future research. (shrink)
Moral understanding is a valuable epistemic and moral good. I argue that moral understanding is the ability to know right from wrong. I defend the account against challenges from nonreductionists, such as Alison Hills, who argue that moral understanding is distinct from moral knowledge. Moral understanding, she suggests, is constituted by a set of abilities: to give and follow moral explanations and to draw moral conclusions. I argue that Hills’s account rests on too narrow a conception (...) of moral understanding. Among other things, it cannot account for the importance of first-personal experience for achieving moral understanding. (shrink)
How can we acquire understanding? Linda Zagzebski has long claimed that understanding is acquired through, or arises from, mastering a particular practical technê. In this paper, I explicate Zagzebski’s claim and argue that the claim is problematic. Based on a critical examination of Zagzebski’s claim, I propose, in conclusion and in brief, a new claim regarding the acquisition of understanding.
What is the relationship between understanding and knowing? This paper offers a defence of reductionism about understanding: the view that instances of understanding reduce to instances of knowing. I argue that knowing is both necessary and sufficient for understanding. I then outline some advantages of reductionism.
“Ethics” is used as a label for a new kind of expertise in the field of science and technology. At the same time, it is not clear what ethical expertise consists in and what its political status in modern democracies can be. Starting from the “participatory turn” in recent social research and policy, we will argue that bioethical reasoning has to include public views of and attitudes towards biomedicine. We will sketch the outlines of a bioethical conception of “public (...) class='Hi'>understanding of ethics,” addressing three different issues: (a) the methodological relevance of moral questions and problems raised by lay persons in everyday life regarding biomedicine and technology, (b) the normative relevance of such lay moralities for the justification of ethical decisions, and (c) the necessity of public deliberation in this context. Finally, we draw conclusions in view of the concepts and methods such a conception of “public understanding of ethics” should employ. (shrink)
Duncan Pritchard (2008, 2009, 2010, forthcoming) has argued for an elegant solution to what have been called the value problems for knowledge at the forefront of recent literature on epistemic value. As Pritchard sees it, these problems dissolve once it is recognized that that it is understanding-why, not knowledge, that bears the distinctive epistemic value often (mistakenly) attributed to knowledge. A key element of Pritchard’s revisionist argument is the claim that understanding-why always involves what he calls strong cognitive (...) achievement—viz., cognitive achievement that consists always in either (i) the overcoming of a significant obstacle or (ii) the exercise of a significant level of cognitive ability. After outlining Pritchard’s argument, we show (contra Pritchard) that understanding-why does not essentially involve strong cognitive achievement. Interestingly, in the cases in which understanding-why is distinctively valuable, it is (we argue) only because there is sufficiently rich objectual understanding in the background. If that’s right, then a plausible revisionist solution to the value problems must be sensitive to different kinds of understanding and what makes them valuable, respectively. (shrink)
According to the most popular non-skeptical views about intuition, intuitions justify beliefs because they are based on understanding. More precisely: if intuiting that p justifies you in believing that p it does so because your intuition is based on your understanding of the proposition that p. The aim of this paper is to raise some challenges for accounts of intuitive justification along these lines. I pursue this project from a non-skeptical perspective. I argue that there are cases in (...) which intuiting that p justifies you in believing that p, but such that there is no compelling reason to think this is because your intuition is based on your understanding of the proposition that p. (shrink)
Strawson (1994) and Peacocke (1992) introduced thought experiments that show that it seems intuitive that there is, in some way, an experiential character to mental events of understanding. Some (e.g., Siewert 1998, 2011; Pitt 2004) try to explain these intuitions by saying that just as we have, say, headache experiences and visual experiences of blueness, so too we have experiences of understanding. Others (e.g., Prinz 2006, 2011; Tye 1996) propose that these intuitions can be explained without positing experiences (...) of understanding. Call this the debate between Realism and Anti-Realism about experiences of understanding. This paper aims to advance that debate in two ways. In the first half, I develop more precise characterizations of what Realists and Anti-Realists propose. In the second half, I distinguish the four most plausible versions of Anti-Realism and argue that Realism better explains the target intuition than any of them does. (shrink)
In recent years, there has been a great deal of controversy in the philosophy of mind, developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience both about how to conceptualize empathy and about the connections between empathy and interpersonal understanding. Ideally, we would first establish a consensus about how to conceptualize empathy, and then analyze the potential contribution of empathy to interpersonal understanding. However, it is not at all clear that such a consensus will soon be forthcoming, given that different people have (...) fundamentally conflicting intuitions about the concept of empathy. Thus, instead of trying to resolve this controversy, I will try to show that a fair amount of consensus is within reach about how empathy can be a source of interpersonal understanding even in the absence of a consensus about how to conceptualize empathy. As we shall see, the main controversy concerns a few phenomena that some researchers view as necessary conditions of empathy, but which others view either as merely characteristic features or as consequences of empathy. My strategy will be to try to show how empathy can generate interpersonal understanding by virtue of these phenomena—regardless of whether one chooses to conceptualize them as necessary conditions of empathy. (shrink)
We might think that thought experiments are at their most powerful or most interesting when they produce new knowledge. This would be a mistake; thought experiments that seek understanding are just as powerful and interesting, and perhaps even more so. A growing number of epistemologists are emphasizing the importance of understanding for epistemology, arguing that it should supplant knowledge as the central notion. In this chapter, I bring the literature on understanding in epistemology to bear on explicating (...) the different ways that thought experiments increase three important kinds of understanding: explanatory, objectual and practical. (shrink)
The Explanatory Model of Scientific Understanding is a deflationary thesis recently advocated by Kareem Khalifa. EMU is committed to two key ideas: all understanding-relevant knowledge is propositional in nature; and the abilities we use to generate understanding are merely our usual logical reasoning skills. In this paper I provide an argument against both ideas, suggesting that scientific understanding requires a significant amount of non-propositional knowledge not captured by logical relations. I use the Inferential Model of Scientific (...)Understanding to reveal how we can better represent what constitutes understanding a scientific event. In particular, this model accounts for not only logical and probabilistic inferences, but also those conceptual associations and categorizations we must make to comprehend an explanation. (shrink)
The literature on the nature of understanding can be divided into two broad camps. Explanationists believe that it is knowledge of explanations that is key to understanding. In contrast, their manipulationist rivals maintain that understanding essentially involves an ability to manipulate certain representations. The aim of this paper is to provide a novel knowledge based account of understanding. More specifically, it proposes an account of maximal understanding of a given phenomenon in terms of fully comprehensive (...) and maximally well-connected knowledge of it and of degrees of understanding in terms of approximations to such knowledge. It is completed by a contextualist semantics for outright attributions of understanding according to which an attribution of understanding is true of one just in case one knows enough about it to perform some contextually determined task. It is argued that this account has an edge over both its explanationist and manipulationist competitors. (shrink)
Paulina Sliwa (2015) argues that knowing why p is necessary and sufficient for understanding why p. She tries to rebut recent attacks against the necessity and sufficiency claims, and explains the gradability of understanding why in terms of knowledge. I argue that her attempts do not succeed, but I indicate more promising ways to defend reductionism about understanding why throughout the discussion.
I examine the passages where Aristotle maintains that intellectual activity employs φαντάσματα (images) and argue that he requires awareness of the relevant images. This, together with Aristotle’s claims about the universality of understanding, gives us reason to reject the interpretation of Michael Wedin and Victor Caston, on which φαντάσματα serve as the material basis for thinking. I develop a new interpretation by unpacking the comparison Aristotle makes to the role of diagrams in doing geometry. In theoretical understanding of (...) mathematical and natural beings, we usually need to employ appropriate φαντάσματα in order to grasp explanatory connections. Aristotle does not, however, commit himself to thinking that images are required for exercising all theoretical understanding. Understanding immaterial things, in particular, may not involve employing phantasmata. Thus the connection that Aristotle makes between images and understanding does not rule out the possibility that human intellectual activity could occur apart from the body. (shrink)
Moral understanding is a species of knowledge. Understanding why an action is wrong, for example, amounts to knowing why the action is wrong. The claim that moral understanding is immune to luck while moral knowledge is not does not withstand scrutiny; nor does the idea that there is something deep about understanding for there are different degrees of understanding. It is also mistaken to suppose that grasping is a distinct psychological state that accompanies understanding. (...) To understand why something is the case is to grasp or see why something is the case and grasping and seeing are ways of knowing. (shrink)
Four experiments investigate the folk concept of “understanding,” in particular when and why it is deployed differently from the concept of knowledge. We argue for the positions that people have higher demands with respect to explanatory depth when it comes to attributing understanding, and that this is true, in part, because understanding attributions play a functional role in identifying experts who should be heeded with respect to the general field in question. These claims are supported by our (...) findings that people differentially withhold attributions of understanding when the object of attribution has minimal explanatory information. We also show that this tendency significantly correlates with people’s willingness to defer to others as potential experts. This work bears on a pressing issue in epistemology concerning the place and value of understanding. Our results also provide reason against positing a simple equation of knowledge and understanding. We contend that, because deference plays a crucial role in many aspects of everyday reasoning, the fact that we use understanding attributions to demarcate experts reveals a potential mechanism for achieving our epistemic aims in many domains. (shrink)
While it is widely acknowledged that knowledge can be acquired via testimony, it has been argued that understanding cannot. While there is no consensus about what the epistemic relationship of understanding consists in, I argue here that regardless of how understanding is conceived there are kinds of understanding that can be acquired through testimony: easy understanding and easy-s understanding. I address a number of aspects of understanding that might stand in the way of (...) being able to acquire understanding through testimony, focusing on understanding ’s paradigmatic form and what it means to say that in order to understand something you need to “grasp” some information or the relationship between bits of information. I argue that in cases of both easy and easy-s understanding, no aspect of understanding stands in the way of it being able to acquire it through testimony. As a result, while not all understanding be acquired through testimony in all instances and for all subjects, this failure of acquisition is only a product of the complexity of the relevant information or one’s unfamiliarity with it, and not a product of the epistemic relationship of understanding. (shrink)
Is linguistic understanding a form of knowledge? I clarify the question and then consider two natural forms a positive answer might take. I argue that, although some recent arguments fail to decide the issue, neither positive answer should be accepted. The aim is not yet to foreclose on the view that linguistic understanding is a form of knowledge, but to develop desiderata on a satisfactory successor to the two natural views rejected here.
The Introduction to the collection of papers, _Reflexivity: A Source-book in Self-reference_. The Introduction studies the limits of our understanding that we carry unavoidably with us. We are perpetually confined within the horizons of our conceptual structure. When this structure grows or expands, the breadth of our comprehensions enlarges, but we are forever barred from the wished-for glimpse beyond its boundaries, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much credence we invest in the substance of our learning (...) and mist of speculation. (shrink)
In his essay ‘“Conceptual Truth”’, Timothy Williamson (2006) argues that there are no truths or entailments that are constitutive of understanding the sentences involved. In this reply I provide several examples of entailment patterns that are intuitively constitutive of understanding in just the way that Williamson rejects, and I argue that Williamson’s argument does nothing to show otherwise. Williamson bolsters his conclusion by appeal to a certain theory about the nature of understanding. I argue that his theory (...) fails to consider the role that the structure of a sentence plays in determining its meaning. The cases I present suggest that this role imposes greater cognitive requirements on understanding than Williamson can acknowledge. (shrink)
Epistemologists have recently debated whether understanding is a species of knowledge. However, because they have offered little in the way of a detailed analysis of understanding, they lack the resources to resolve this issue. In this paper, I propose that S understands why p if and only if S has the non-Gettierised true belief that p, and for some proposition q, S has the non-Gettierised true belief that q is the best available explanation of p, S can correctly (...) explain p with q, and S can identify the features that make q the best explanation of p. On this analysis, understanding is reducible to knowing that p and that q is the best available explanation of p. (shrink)
Bird argues that scientific progress consists in increasing knowledge. Dellsén objects that increasing knowledge is neither necessary nor sufficient for scientific progress, and argues that scientific progress rather consists in increasing understanding. Dellsén also contends that unlike Bird’s view, his view can account for the scientific practices of using idealizations and of choosing simple theories over complex ones. I argue that Dellsén’s criticisms against Bird’s view fail, and that increasing understanding cannot account for scientific progress, if acceptance, as (...) opposed to belief, is required for scientific understanding. (shrink)
Deductive Cogency holds that the set of propositions towards which one has, or is prepared to have, a given type of propositional attitude should be consistent and closed under logical consequence. While there are many propositional attitudes that are not subject to this requirement, e.g. hoping and imagining, it is at least prima facie plausible that Deductive Cogency applies to the doxastic attitude involved in propositional knowledge, viz. (outright) belief. However, this thought is undermined by the well-known preface paradox, leading (...) a number of philosophers to conclude that Deductive Cogency has at best a very limited role to play in our epistemic lives. I argue here that Deductive Cogency is still an important epistemic requirement, albeit not as a requirement on belief. Instead, building on a distinction between belief and acceptance introduced by Jonathan Cohen and recent developments in the epistemology of understanding, I propose that Deductive Cogency applies to the attitude of treating propositions as given in the context of attempting to understand a given phenomenon. I then argue that this simultaneously accounts for the plausibility of the considerations in favor of Deductive Cogency and avoids the problematic consequences of the preface paradox. (shrink)
Understanding enjoys a special kind of value, one not held by lesser epistemic states such as knowledge and true belief. I explain the value of understanding via a seemingly unrelated topic, the implausibility of veritism. Veritism holds that true belief is the sole ultimate epistemic good and all other epistemic goods derive their value from the epistemic value of true belief. Veritism entails that if you have a true belief that p, you have all the epistemic good qua (...) p. Veritism is a plausible and widely held view; I argue that it is untenable. I argue that integration among beliefs possesses epistemic value independent from the good of true belief, and so has value veritism cannot account for. I argue further that this integration among beliefs comprises the distinctive epistemic value of understanding. (shrink)
Is understanding epistemic in nature? Does a correct account of what constitutes understanding of a concept mention epistemological notions such as knowledge, justification or epistemic rationality? We defend the view that understanding is epistemic in nature – we defend epistemological conceptions of understanding. We focus our discussion with a critical evaluation of Tim Williamson's challenges to epistemological conceptions of understanding in The Philosophy of Philosophy. Against Williamson, we distinguish three kinds of epistemological conceptions and argue (...) that Williamson's arguments succeed against only the most heavily committed kind, and leave the less heavily committed kinds untouched. Further, we argue that Williamson's elaboration of lessons from his arguments point in a direction opposite of his own conclusions and give vivid articulation and support to epistemological conceptions. We suggest also that skepticism about Williamson's larger metaphilosophical conclusions – according to which understanding plays no special role in the epistemology of philosophy – may be in order. (shrink)
Toy models are highly idealized and extremely simple models. Although they are omnipresent across scientific disciplines, toy models are a surprisingly under-appreciated subject in the philosophy of science. The main philosophical puzzle regarding toy models is that it is an unsettled question what the epistemic goal of toy modeling is. One promising proposal for answering this question is the claim that the epistemic goal of toy models is to provide individual scientists with understanding. The aim of this paper is (...) to precisely articulate and to defend this claim. In particular, we will distinguish between autonomous and embedded toy models, and, then, argue that important examples of autonomous toy models are sometimes best interpreted to provide how-possibly understanding, while embedded toy models yield how-actually understanding, if certain conditions are satisfied. (shrink)
It is plausible to think that the epistemic benefit of having an explanation is understanding. My focus in this article is on the extent to which explanatory understanding, perhaps unlike knowledge, is compatible with certain forms of luck—the extent to which one can understand why something is the case when one is lucky to truly believe an explanatorily relevant proposition. I argue, contra Stephen Grimm () and Duncan Pritchard (, ), that understanding quite generally is compatible with (...) luckily believing a true, explanatorily relevant proposition. My strategy is to argue that various intuitions that seem to rule against lucky understanding can be explained away, and thus do not compel us to reject the thesis that, in general, understanding tolerates luck. In arriving at this conclusion, I address some salient issues regarding the testimony of others, and also draw out the consequences of my discussions for the status of understanding as a cognitive achievement. (shrink)