SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

The Epistemology of Understanding: A Contextualist Approach
(Epistemology, English)

Some decades ago, philosophers like Linda Zagzebski, Catherine Elgin and Jonathan Kvanvig voiced their discontent with the limitation of epistemological interest to the study of knowledge and propagated a turn towards understanding (as grasping a coherent body of information). Since then, many authors have pondered the questions of whether understanding is a form of knowledge, what types of understanding there are, what features are central to understanding and why understanding is a valuable epistemic goal. Being centred on technicalities like these, the debate on understanding is at risk of running idle and largely failed to provide an exhaustive analysis of understanding.

In my talk, I want to hint at such an analysis by embedding the notion of understanding into a contextualist framework. Inspired by the relevant alternatives contextualism about knowledge, I take it that the correctness of an ascription of understanding is determined relative to the context in which understanding is ascribed. This context is constituted by the problems an ascriber considers regarding some subject matter. To qualify for an ascription of understanding, a subject then not only needs to possess knowledge of facts and dependency relations regarding that subject matter, but also needs to be able to satisfactorily solve the problems that the ascriber considers.

By linking background knowledge with problem-solving abilities, my approach preserves the intuition that understanding is a demanding cognitive achievement that goes beyond the mere knowledge of some subject matter. Furthermore, it accounts for the way we ordinarily ascribe understanding by enabling that two ascribers can judge contrastingly and yet individually correct whether or not a subject qualifies for understanding. Lastly, it benefits the ongoing debate, for instance by bridging the gap between different types of understanding and by offering a direct way to account for the fact that understanding admits of degrees.

Time: 11:20-11:50, 19 September 2019 (Thursday)
Location: HS E.002

Marcus Bachmann 
(University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany)

I started to study Grammar School Education for Philosophy, Ethics and English at the University of Halle-Wittenberg in 2011. After a semester abroad at the University of New Castle (England) and a teaching internship at the German International School Pretoria (South Africa), I finished my studies in 2018 with a state examination thesis on the relation of knowledge and understanding. Since then, I am a PhD student at the University of Halle-Wittenberg working on a contextualist approach to understanding.

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