Understanding and Structure

In Stephen Grimm (ed.), Making Sense of the World: New Essays on the Philosophy of Understanding. Oxford University Press (2017)


In the Phaedrus, Socreates sympathetically describes the ability “to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do.” (265e) In contemporary philosophy, Ted Sider (2009, 2011) defends the same idea. As I shall put it, Plato and Sider’s idea is that limning structure is an epistemic goal. My aim in this paper is to articulate and defend this idea. First, I’ll articulate the notion of a structural proposition (§1), and the notion of an epistemic goal (§2), where I’ll assume that epistemic goals are species of accuracy. Then (§3), I’ll argue against some proposals for understanding the idea that limning structure is an epistemic goal: limning structure is neither an aim of belief (§3.1), nor of inquiry (§3.2), nor of concept possession (§3.3). Importantly, non-structural belief is not thereby inaccurate; belief does not “aim” at being structural. Next (§4), I’ll propose a framework for understanding the idea that limning structure is an epistemic goal, and defend that idea. What is required, to defend the view that limning structure is an epistemic goal, is the notion of (what I call) theorizing – a propositional attitude that, unlike belief, does “aim” at being structural (§4.1). I’ll argue that structural truths constitute a species of “important” truths (§4.2), and that apt theorizing is a species of understanding (§4.3). Finally (§5), I’ll discuss the possibility that there is no structure.

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Author's Profile

Allan Hazlett
Washington University in St. Louis

References found in this work

On the Plurality of Worlds.David Lewis - 1986 - Wiley-Blackwell.
Writing the Book of the World.Theodore Sider - 2011 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
New Work for a Theory of Universals.David K. Lewis - 1983 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61 (4):343-377.
Knowledge in a Social World.Alvin Ira Goldman - 1999 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work

Realism and the Absence of Value.Shamik Dasgupta - 2018 - Philosophical Review 127 (3):279-322.
Understanding and Testimony.Allan Hazlett - forthcoming - In Jennifer Lackey & Aidan McGlynn (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Social Epistemology. Oxford.
Conceptual Evaluation: Epistemic.Alejandro Pérez Carballo - 2020 - In Alexis Burgess, Herman Cappelen & David Plunkett (eds.), Conceptual Engineering and Conceptual Ethics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 304-332.
Desire That Amounts to Knowledge.Allan Hazlett - 2021 - Philosophical Quarterly 71 (1):56-73.
Testimony, Understanding, and Art Criticism.Allan Hazlett - forthcoming - In Christy Mag Uidhir (ed.), Philosophy and Art: New Essays at the Intersection. Oxford University Press.

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