The Truth About Better Understanding?

Erkenntnis 88 (2):747-770 (2021)
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The notion of understanding occupies an increasingly prominent place in contemporary epistemology, philosophy of science, and moral theory. A central and ongoing debate about the nature of understanding is how it relates to the truth. In a series of influential contributions, Catherine Elgin has used a variety of familiar motivations for antirealism in philosophy of science to defend a non- factive theory of understanding. Key to her position are: (i) the fact that false theories can contribute to the upwards trajectory of scientific understanding, and (ii) the essential role of inaccurate idealisations in scientific research. Using Elgin’s arguments as a foil, I show that a strictly factive theory of understanding has resources with which to offer a unified response to both the problem of idealisations and the role of false theories in the upwards trajectory of scientific understanding. Hence, strictly factive theories of understanding are viable notwithstanding these forceful criticisms.

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Lewis Ross
London School of Economics


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