Group understanding

Synthese 198 (7):6837-6858 (2019)
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While social epistemologists have recently begun addressing questions about whether groups can possess beliefs or knowledge, little has yet been said about whether groups can properly be said to possess understanding. Here I want to make some progress on this question by considering two possible accounts of group understanding, modeled on accounts of group belief and knowledge: a deflationary account, according to which a group understands just in case most or all of its members understand, and an inflationary account, according to which a group’s understanding does not depend solely on whether its members understand. I argue that both accounts face problems. The deflationary account has two such problems: aggregation problems that are familiar from discussions of group belief, and the problem of different bases, wherein members possess understanding for different but consistent reasons. The inflationary account faces what I call the problem of distributed grasping: while it is widely accepted that understanding requires a kind of “grasping”, it is hard to make sense of how this requirement could be met at the group level while not necessarily being met by any individual member. Despite its problems, I make a case for the inflationary account. This will require addressing the problem of distributed grasping: to do this, I propose a different way of thinking about the grasping relation at the group level, such that it is constituted by a dependency relationship between members.

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Kenneth Boyd
University of Toronto, St. George Campus (PhD)


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