Non-factive Understanding: A Statement and Defense
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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.
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