Whalen, Alexander Crutchfield
Virtue-theoretic accounts of knowledge start by capturing the value of knowledge as an achievement and work from there to develop a full theory of knowledge. But environmental luck, which is compatible with achievements but typically defeats knowledge, introduces some unique challenges for these accounts to overcome. While far from devastating for the virtue-theoretic project, several authors have viewed these worries as an opportunity to shift their focus towards understanding. In the past, understanding has been mostly ignored by epistemologists who considered it to be a psychological state rather than something worth further inquiry. Over the past decade, this view has changed and understanding is quickly becoming a topic of great interest and lively debate. Among the key questions in this debate is the relationship between knowledge and understanding, the role of epistemic luck, and whether understanding has final value as a cognitive achievement. However, the debate is taking place in the absence of a useful theory of understanding that can provide a principled means of addressing these topics. This project aims to help remedy the situation by identifying a kind of understanding, which I call ampliative understanding, that can provide a framework in which the current debate can take place. In staying true to the virtue-theoretic approach, this account of understanding starts by focusing on its value as a cognitive achievement and working from there. On this view, an agent with ampliative understanding will be able to acquire true beliefs in a way that manifests her cognitive abilities. While there are certainly other kinds of understanding that may be of epistemological import, ampliative understanding is able to accommodate our intuitions about the value of understanding and can capture most of the necessary features for understanding that we find in the literature. My hope is that, with the framework of ampliative understanding in place, we can have a debate that is both rigorous and productive.