Belgrade Legal Theory Group Meeting (04.03.2024.) Prof. Catherine Elgin  “The Concept of Understanding”

Belgrade Legal Theory Group organized its first event of the spring semester of 2024 with Prof. Catherine Elgin (Harvard University) on the concept of understanding within the philosophy of science.

Prof. Elgin opened with general remarks about epistemic reliability, the concept of truth, and explanation. She pointed out the importance of causality, as well as overall systematic interconnections of theoretical propositions. Her claim is that we should give up on the idea of knowledge as certainty, and rather embrace the concept of understanding.

Prof. Elgin then emphasized that even the best scientific accounts are not true, since they are generally burdened with anomalies, but even when they are successful, they rely on models, idealizations, curve smoothing, and ceteris paribus claims that are known to diverge from the truth.

Afterward, Prof. Elgin moved on to the explanation of understanding. On one hand, we sometimes accept claims that we do not consider true, and on the other hand, we do not unplausibly accept falsehoods either. Therefore, we need negligible divergence from truth, i.e. what is true enough. Prof. Elgin concluded that understanding means an “epistemic commitment to a comprehensive, systematically linked body of information that is grounded in fact, is duly responsive to reasons or evidence, and enables nontrivial inference, argument, and perhaps action regarding the topic the information pertains to”.

Following was the Q&A part of the event, with substantial interest from the audience that was mainly focused on different types of interpretations of the concept of truth, the scope of the concept of understanding, relations to approximations and justified belief, as well as the concept of understanding in social sciences.

Ending the meeting, Sava Vojnović thanked everyone for an interesting discussion, as well as Prof. Elgin for the excellent lecture.