Fall Semester Colloquia Update

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).

“Defanging Denialism” — Pacific APA update

We’ve drafted a paper entitled “Defanging Denialism by Seeing for Yourself” that captures some of our recent thinking on public understanding of science. It’s been submitted for consideration for a symposium at the 2015 APA. Here it is! Defanging Denialism Comments very welcome.

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Understanding the Fine Print

An interesting NPR story came on the other day about two researchers at Dartmouth trying to get more easily-digestible drug facts on pharmaceutical company’s packaging. Aside from their main message about the public’s ability to understand quantitative, statistical information about drug effectiveness, one thing that stood out for me was how they communicated a simple […]

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In the news…

Bucknell has posted a news item announcing and describing our project. Thanks to Matt Hughes for a fun interview and for his great work on the write-up!

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PSA 2014

In addition to organizing a series of talks on understanding for the fall semester, we’re planning to travel to the 2014 meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, to be held November 6-8 in Chicago. Matthew will be giving a paper, and Jason will be soaking in the phil sci vibe, as this will be his first PSA. […]

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2015 Pacific APA

We’re happy to announce that our first grant-supported product will be a submission for the 2015 meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association, to be held from April 1-5 in Vancouver, BC. The paper is currently in progress and will focus on some of our reasons for thinking that public understanding of science is preferable to mere public […]

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Social Epistemology on Tap


Since we’re now at the beginning of Stage 1, we’re starting both the planning process for events connected with the project and digging into some foundation/refresher readings in social epistemology. In recent decades, philosophers have become increasingly interested in  socially-oriented epistemology. But the focus here has been on the production, distribution, and transmission of knowledge. At […]

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And we’re off!

My colleague Jason Leddington and I are thrilled to have received a one-year, $100,000 grant from the Varieties of Understanding Project — a Templeton Foundation funded project led by Stephen Grimm at Fordham University — to enable us to study the nature and production of public understanding of science. Here’s the short description of our […]

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