COGITO EPISTEMOLOGY RESEARCH CENTRE
@ UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW
Evidence: Knowledge and Understanding
PIs: Christoph Kelp & Anne Meylan (Zurich)
Postdoc: Miloud Belkoniene
Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation Grant (GBP 480,000)
The study of knowledge and understanding has a very rich tradition in philosophy that dates back to the works of Plato and Aristotle. The reason for this is that both these notions denote particularly valuable cognitive standings whose natures raise fundamental questions concerning the type of access to reality rational subjects such as ourselves enjoy. The goal of the project “Evidence: Knowledge and Understanding” is to explore a novel and unified account of the way knowledge, understanding and evidence relate to each other. While both knowledge and understanding appear to be of great value to us, we may indeed ask whether gaining an understanding of what we know, as opposed to what we correctly believe for instance, is of particular importance. The reason to think it is, according to one of the main hypotheses that we intend to explore, is that the understanding we gain of what we know contributes to the important role our evidence plays.
Consider for instance the occurrence of a thunderclap which is evidence for the claim that lightning struck. When learning that a thunderclap has occurred, one acquires evidence for believing that lightning struck and the role this piece of evidence can play plausibly depends on the understanding one has of why a thunderclap has occurred and of the occurrence of thunderclaps in general. One’s readiness to offer it as evidence for the claim that lightning struck depends on that understanding.
The project “Evidence: Knowledge and Understanding” is structured around two subprojects, each of which is itself subdivided in three distinct parts. Subproject A, entitled “Evidence and Understanding”, will investigate the hypothesis that the understanding we gain of what we know contributes to the role our evidence plays. According to the default epistemological view, the evidence we acquire is what puts us in a position to know and to understand certain things. As a matter of fact, inquiry presumably aims at reaching valuable cognitive standings such as knowledge and understanding and we achieve this aim by gathering evidence for the claims that are considered in the course of an inquiry. As a result, considerable attention has been devoted to the question as to how the evidence we acquire can put us in a position to know reality and to understand the reality we come to know. Subproject A will reverse the order of questions by investigating whether what we come to know and understand contributes to our stock of evidence and to the role it plays in the course of inquiry.
Subproject B, entitled “Knowledge and Understanding” will explore three aspects of the current debate concerning the epistemology of understanding with the aim of making explicit the reasons for thinking that understanding is best conceived of as a body of comprehensive and well-connected knowledge. This subproject draws on the debates concerning the factivity of understanding, its grasping component and its compatibility with epistemic luck to examine three main hypotheses which, if correct, lay ground for a specific knowledge-based conception of understanding. We intend to show that such a knowledge-based conception is best suited to account for the particular contribution of understanding to the role played by evidence (the particular contribution of understanding to the role played by evidence is, to recall, the topic explored in subproject A). For, given such an account of understanding, this contribution is naturally conceived in terms of the way individually known propositions fit into a larger body of comprehensive and well-connected knowledge.
By pursuing these two research aims simultaneously, the project “Evidence: Knowledge and Understanding” thus aims at offering a novel account of the way knowledge, understanding and evidence relate to each other. This account will clarify the important conceptual relations between these notions and show how the knowledge and the understanding we gain themselves contribute to an objective inquiry into reality.