Understanding and Structure

In Stephen Grimm (ed.), Making Sense of the World: New Essays on the Philosophy of Understanding. Oxford University Press (2017)
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In the Phaedrus, Socreates sympathetically describes the ability “to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do.” (265e) In contemporary philosophy, Ted Sider (2009, 2011) defends the same idea. As I shall put it, Plato and Sider’s idea is that limning structure is an epistemic goal. My aim in this paper is to articulate and defend this idea. First, I’ll articulate the notion of a structural proposition (§1), and the notion of an epistemic goal (§2), where I’ll assume that epistemic goals are species of accuracy. Then (§3), I’ll argue against some proposals for understanding the idea that limning structure is an epistemic goal: limning structure is neither an aim of belief (§3.1), nor of inquiry (§3.2), nor of concept possession (§3.3). Importantly, non-structural belief is not thereby inaccurate; belief does not “aim” at being structural. Next (§4), I’ll propose a framework for understanding the idea that limning structure is an epistemic goal, and defend that idea. What is required, to defend the view that limning structure is an epistemic goal, is the notion of (what I call) theorizing – a propositional attitude that, unlike belief, does “aim” at being structural (§4.1). I’ll argue that structural truths constitute a species of “important” truths (§4.2), and that apt theorizing is a species of understanding (§4.3). Finally (§5), I’ll discuss the possibility that there is no structure.
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