SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Understanding and Factivity - A framework for weak factivism
(Philosophy of Science, English)

Does understanding require factivity? It seems that our scientific endeavors are not solely concerned with the mere collection of knowledge about different phenomena, but also with a genuine understanding of what is going on in the world. Respectively, whatever constitutes understanding must somehow answer to the facts.

In order to satisfy a factivity requirement as a condition for understanding, one might hold that whatever constitutes understanding exclusively consists of true propositions. However, this approach has been challenged within recent epistemological discussions considering that even a few falsehoods do not undermine one's understanding completely. I hold that this problem can be solved in two steps:

First, I will make use of a distinction introduced by Jonathan Kvanvig between symbolic and factual understanding. While factual understanding is concerned with an understanding of phenomena, symbolic understanding is concerned with its representations and therefore, functions as a vehicle to factual understanding. Given that symbolic understanding does not necessarily require factivity, even an understanding of false representations is possible, yet scientifically inadequate. Accordingly, factual understanding can be obtained by only accepting true propositions as the object of one's understanding.

In a second step, I suggest that we can avoid the emerging problem of scientific models and theories that fall outside the scope of factual understanding because they are already constructed as representations that diverge from the truth. To do so, I will turn to a central feature of understanding, that is, the notion of grasping. I hold that grasping can at least partly be analyzed in terms of a non-propositional gathering of knowledge how aspects of what constitutes understanding can be applied to actual and counterfactual cases. Respectively, factual understanding will be guided by knowledge how scientific models and theories apply to actual cases. Following Henk de Regt's conception of scientific understanding, an understanding subject has beliefs about the context in which a scientific model or theory is scientifically adequate. Thus, factual understanding through scientific models and theories can be obtained.

Chair: Gregor Greslehner
Time: 14:40-15:10, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.005

Alexander Belak 
(FAU Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany)

Alexander Belak is a PhD student at the FAU University Erlangen-Nuremberg and was born in 1993 in Wuppertal. He studied philosophy at the University of Stuttgart and completed his Bachelor's degree in 2016. At the moment he is in the final stages of his Master's thesis. Since September 2018, he has also been working as a doctoral student under Prof. Dr. Gerhard Ernst at the FAU University Erlangen-Nuremberg. His main areas of interest are epistemology and the philosophy of science, especially the nature of scientific understanding, factivity and the notion of grasping.

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