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Understanding for a purpose

PhD ceremony:S.L. (Stefan) Sleeuw, MA
When:March 02, 2023
Supervisors:prof. dr. J.W. (Jan-Willem) Romeijn, prof. dr. A.J.M. (Jeanne) Peijnenburg
Where:Academy building RUG

Epistemology is a philosophical discipline which has traditionally been concerned with studying the nature of knowledge. For some decades now, a number of epistemologists have been trying to steer their discipline away from the conventional study of knowledge, into a new paradigm centered around the concept of understanding. Increasingly, however, the study of understanding is starting to resemble the study of knowledge in important respects, such as in its preoccupation with the so-called problem of epistemic luck. In my dissertation, I argue that the study of understanding is in need of a methodological reorientation. I propose that instead of formulating a definition of understanding on the basis of our intuitions, which has been the usual modus operandi, we had best strive to let our definition capture the functions that understanding-ascriptions have in a community. With this general guideline in hand, I argue that understanding is a behavioral, rather than a cognitive achievement, and that understanding requires a practical kind of success, rather than truth or truth-approximation. I show that this behaviorist, pragmatist theory of understanding does a better job than more traditional proposals in accounting, among other things, for the value of idealizations in scientific research, the relation between different types of understanding, and the nature of scientific progress.