- Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles for 2018
The development of an epistemology that explains how science and art embody and convey understanding.
Philosophy valorizes truth, holding that there can never be epistemically good reasons to accept a known falsehood, or to accept modes of justification that are not truth conducive. How can this stance account for the epistemic standing of science, which unabashedly relies on models, idealizations, and thought experiments that are known not to be true? In True Enough, Catherine Elgin argues that we should not assume that the inaccuracy of models and idealizations constitutes an inadequacy. To the contrary, their divergence from truth or representational accuracy fosters their epistemic functioning. When effective, models and idealizations are, Elgin contends, felicitous falsehoods that exemplify features of the phenomena they bear on. Because works of art deploy the same sorts of felicitous falsehoods, she argues, they also advance understanding.
Elgin develops a holistic epistemology that focuses on the understanding of broad ranges of phenomena rather than knowledge of individual facts. Epistemic acceptability, she maintains, is a matter not of truth-conduciveness, but of what would be reflectively endorsed by the members of an idealized epistemic community—a quasi-Kantian realm of epistemic ends.
True Enough advances Catherine Elgin's pioneering endeavor to develop an epistemology consonant with the practices of science. While others see idealizations and other 'false models' as mere heuristic devices, Elgin's analysis explains how they play an ineliminable role in advancing scientific understanding. The book provides a bridge between epistemology and philosophy of science by offering important insights for contemporary debates in the philosophy of scientific practice.
Nancy J. Nersessian, Regents' Professor Emerita of Cognitive Science, Georgia Institute of Technology; author of Creating Scientific Concepts
If the aims and methods of science baffle you, this book offers the key to unlock their mysteries. It urges nothing less than a reorientation of epistemology away from truth and toward understanding. Rather than being a collection of individual facts, science offers an understanding of a wider range of phenomena. Understanding is not factive, and divergence from truth fosters rather than hinders the epistemic goals of science. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the nature of scientific knowledge, and Elgin's provocative thesis will give food for thought to students of science for years to come.
Roman Frigg, Professor of Philosophy, London School of Economics
An impressively wide-ranging, meticulously argued, thought-provoking book...Elgin's True Enough is a philosophical tour-de-force of incredible breadth.
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Elgin's project will show that we get on just fine, intellectually as well as practically, by replacing truth and knowledge with “true enough” and understanding.
Journal of Philosophy
An original, fruitful blend of epistemology and philosophy of science...this is a wonderful book, written in an elegant and informal style, and replete with stimulating ideas on a wide range of subjects.
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews