Non-factive Understanding: A Statement and Defense
- 40 Downloads
In epistemology and philosophy of science, there has been substantial debate about truth’s relation to understanding. “Non-factivists” hold that radical departures from the truth are not always barriers to understanding; “quasi-factivists” demur. The most discussed example concerns scientists’ use of idealizations in certain derivations of the ideal gas law from statistical mechanics. Yet, these discussions have suffered from confusions about the relevant science, as well as conceptual confusions. Addressing this example, we shall argue that the ideal gas law is best interpreted as favoring non-factivism about understanding, but only after delving a bit deeper into the statistical mechanics that has informed these arguments and stating more precisely what non-factivism entails. Along the way, we indicate where earlier discussions have gone astray, and highlight how a naturalistic approach furnishes more nuanced normative theses about the interaction of rationality, understanding, and epistemic value.
KeywordsUnderstanding Truth Factive Idealization Models Acceptance Epistemic value
We would like to thank the following people for feedback on earlier drafts of this paper (or parts thereof): Holly Andersen, Sorin Bangu, Richard Dawid, Henk de Regt, Catherine Elgin, Jan Faye, Insa Lawler, Mark Newman, Cailin O’Connor, Benjamin Rancourt, Juha Saatsi, Jonathan Schaffer, Samuel Schindler, Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen, Brad Skow, Michael Strevens, and Daniel Wilkenfeld. We would also like to thank the audiences at the Workshop on Explanation and Understanding in Aarhus, Denmark, and the 2016 Meeting of Philosophy of Science Association in Atlanta, GA for their feedback on talks that used parts of this paper.
- Batterman, R. W. (2002). The devil in the details: Asymptotic reasoning in explanation, reduction and emergence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Braverman, M., Clevenger, J., Harmon, I., Higgins, A., et al. (2012). Intelligibility is necessary for scientific explanation, but accuracy may not be. In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, & R. Cooper (Eds.), 34th Annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society 2012 (CogSci 2012): Building bridges across cognitive sciences around the world. Sapporo, Japan, 1–4 August 2012 (Vol. 1, pp. 1368–1373). Austin: Cognitive Science Society.Google Scholar
- Cohen, L. J. (1992). An essay on belief and acceptance. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
- David, M. (2005). Truth as the primary epistemic goal: A working hypothesis. In M. Steup, J. Turri, & E. Sosa (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 363–377). Malden: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Elgin, C. Z. (2009a). Exemplification, idealization, and scientific understanding. In M. Suárez (Ed.), Fictions in science: Philosophical essays on modeling and idealization (pp. 77–91). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Elgin, C. Z. (2009b). Is understanding factive? In A. Haddock, A. Millar, & D. Pritchard (Eds.), Epistemic value (pp. 322–330). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Greco, J. (2013). Episteme: Knowledge and understanding. In K. Timpe & C. A. Boyd (Eds.), Virtues and their vices (pp. 285–301). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kvanvig, J. L. (2005). Truth is not the primary epistemic goal. In M. Steup, J. Turri, & E. Sosa (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 352–362). Malden: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Kvanvig, J. L. (2009a). Précis of the value of knowledge and the pursuit of understanding. In A. Haddock, A. Millar, & D. Pritchard (Eds.), Epistemic value (pp. 309–313). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kvanvig, J. L. (2009b). Responses to critics. In A. Haddock, A. Millar, & D. Pritchard (Eds.), Epistemic value (pp. 339–352). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lewis, D. K. (1986). Causal explanation. In Philosophical Papers (Vol. 2, pp. 214–240). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Oddie, G. (2016). Truthlikeness. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition). https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/truthlikeness/.
- Pritchard, D. (2007). Recent work on epistemic value. American Philosophical Quarterly, 44(2), 85.Google Scholar
- Strevens, M. (2008). Depth: An account of scientific explanation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Strevens, M. (2016). How idealizations provide understanding. In S. Grimm, C. Baumberger, & S. Ammon (Eds.), Explaining understanding: New essays in epistemology and philosophy of science (pp. 37–49). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Woodward, J. (2003). Making things happen: A theory of causal explanation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar