Do We Deserve Credit for Everything We Understand?

Episteme:1-20 (2021)
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Abstract

It is widely acknowledged in the literature in social epistemology that knowledge has a social dimension: we are epistemically dependent upon one another for most of what we know. Our knowledge can be, and very often is, grounded on the epistemic achievement of somebody else. But what about epistemic aims other than knowledge? What about understanding? Prominent authors argue that understanding is not social in the same way in which knowledge is. Others can put us in the position to understand, but when we understand something, this accomplishment is to be credited mainly if not entirely to us, as it is due to the successful exercise of our own cognitive abilities. In this paper, I show that the social dimension of understanding closely resembles the social dimension of knowledge. I distinguish between three different ways in which a subject can depend upon another subject for (either the acquisition or the possession of) a certain epistemic good. I then argue that all these kinds of epistemic dependence apply to knowledge and understanding alike. If I am right, understanding is not (always) an achievement to be (mainly) credited to the single epistemic agent who understands.

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Federica Isabella Malfatti
University of Innsbruck

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