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Elgin, Catherine, and . Understanding and The Facts

2007, Philosophical Studies 132: 33-42.

Abstract: If understanding is factive, the propositions that express an understanding are true. I argue that a factive conception of understanding is unduly restrictive. It neither reflects our practices in ascribing understanding nor does justice to contemporary science. For science uses idealizations and models that do not to mirror the facts. Strictly speaking, they are false. By appeal to exemplification, I devise a more generous, flexible conception of understanding that accommodates science, reflects our practices, and shows a sufficient but not slavish sensitivity to the facts.

Comment: This paper could be used in an undergraduate or graduate course on epistemology, philosophy of science, or any area in which the nature of understanding is at issue. The paper is quite brief and not particularly technical. It makes a good case for a claim that initially sounds very counterintuitive, so can serve as a good prompt for a discussion.