Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on a book project

For the better part of two years, I've vacillated between writing a bunch of articles and just going for a book manuscript. Right now, I seem to have plenty of articles to write, but they're also starting to form the kind of "coherent whole" that would make for a nice book. So I figured that I'll just walk through the papers I'm writing or I want to write and assemble them into a tentative book project here.

My main questions in my recent papers concern the nature of a particular kind of understanding. Its paradigmatic incarnation is found within the natural sciences, though it's certainly not constrained to any particular discipline or even to distinctively academic enterprises. Some examples: Newton understood gravitation, Darwin understood why species were adapted to their environments and how they evolved, your mechanic understands why your car is making that funny noise, etc.

This has only recently become a hot topic among epistemologists and philosophers of science. My own view tends to be somewhat deflationary. Whereas some epistemologists (Kvanvig, Pritchard, Zagzebski) have claimed that understanding is not a species of knowledge, I've argued that it is a form of knowledge--specifically a kind of explanatory knowledge. While both epistemologists and philosophers of science (de Regt, Dieks, Kvanvig, Lipton) have argued that understanding isn't reducible to explanation, I've suggested the exact opposite. In the process, I've come up with an analysis of understanding.

So here's what I'm imagining for the book:
Chapter 1: I present my explanatory model of understanding.
Chapter 2: I argue that my model doesn't fall prey to J.D. Trout's worries about the unreliability of the sense of understanding.*
Chapter 3: I argue that Lipton's "Understanding Without Explanation" doesn't refute my model.**
Chapter 4: I argue that Kvanvig's objectual understanding can be reduced to my model.
Chapter 5: I argue that several philosophers of science have done nothing to show that understanding can't be replaced by explanation without loss.
Chapter 6: I argue that understanding is a species of knowledge.
Chapter 7: I argue that only an antirealist interpretation of my account of understanding could play the role that epistemologists like Kvanvig and Pritchard have imagined for it, and that it can do so while still remaining a species of knowledge.*

I'm practically there, with only the chapters (2&7) marked with an asterisk not yet started, and with the Lipton paper (marked with a double-asterisk) close to being ready. All the rest have more or less been written, so it's just an issue of putting them together into a coherent book. Since I don't see any of these being less than 20 pages, I think I've got enough for a short monograph.

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