I examine situations in which we say that different subjects have ‘different’, ‘competing’, or ‘conflicting understandings’ of a phenomenon. In order to make sense of such situations, we should turn our attention to an often neglected ambiguity in the word ‘understanding’. Whereas the notion of understanding that is typically discussed in philosophy is, to use Elgin’s terms, tethered to the facts, there is another notion of understanding that is not tethered in the same way. This latter notion is relevant because, typically, talk of two subjects having ‘different’, ‘competing’, or ‘conflicting understandings’ of a phenomenon does not entail any commitment to the proposition that these subjects understand the phenomenon in the tethered sense of the word. This paper aims, first, to analyze the non-tethered notion of understanding, second, to clarify its relationship to the tethered notion, third, to explore what exactly goes on when ‘different’, ‘competing’, or ‘conflicting understandings’ clash and, fourth, to discuss the significance of such situations in our epistemic practices. In particular, I argue for a version of scientific pluralism according to which such situations are important because they help scientific communities achieve their fundamental epistemic goals—most importantly, the goal of understanding the world in the tethered sense.
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DOI 10.1007/s10838-020-09547-x
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Is Water H2O? Evidence, Realism and Pluralism.Hasok Chang - 2012 - Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science.

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