We’re planning three exciting colloquia in the fall semester.
First, Catherine Elgin (Harvard) will speak on Thursday, Oct. 2. The title of her talk is “Making an Example of It” in Academic West 108. Here’s her abstract:
I will argue that thinking with things often involves taking them to exemplify some of their features. Rather than being mere things, as exemplars, they function as symbols that highlight features and afford epistemic access to them.
Second, Stephen Grimm (Fordham) will speak on Tuesday, Nov. 4 on “How Understanding Human Beings Differs from Understanding the Natural World” in the Willard–Smith Library (Vaughan Lit 125):
When we try to understand the natural world, we often appeal to things like causes or mechanisms or laws. But what happens when we try to understand other people? Do we need to appeal to something different—perhaps to notions like values or goods? I will consider a few ways in which philosophers have claimed that there is something distinctive when it comes to understanding human beings, and argue that these attempts have fallen short in various respects. I will then offer my own view about how understanding human beings differs from understanding the natural world.
Finally, Gary Hardcastle (Bloomsburg) will speak on Thursday, Nov. 20. on “(Really) Recovering Understanding: James B. Conant’s Theory of Understanding and Its Contemporary Relevance” in Academic West 108:
Focusing upon his 1947 On Understanding Science: An Historical Approach (the published form of his 1946 Terry Lectures), this talk recounts James B. Conant’s theory of understanding, as well as the social, political, and pedagogical projects Conant associated with it. In 1946 Conant had been the President of Harvard University for ten years; he had served as the Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee during WWII, overseeing the Manhattan Project; he had, with Vannevar Bush, laid the foundation for what would be America’s National Science Foundation; and he had brought into being a model of post-war university education, a vision distilled in 1945’s General Education in a Free Society, aka the Harvard “Red Book.” These achievements brought Conant to regard understanding as vitally important to human survival, and they brought him to articulate a theory of understanding and its transmission, a project he would continue for the rest of his life. Though Conant’s thinking about understanding was acutely tuned WWII and the ensuing Cold War, his questions are just those that have motivated a resurgence of interest in understanding in the (heretofore somewhat insulated) fields of epistemology and philosophy of science: “Why,” Conant asks, “should any but a relatively few experts need to understand science,” and what, for that matter, does it mean, to “understand science”? Moreover, Conant’s answers to these questions illuminate some contemporary debates (or so I’ll argue).