Monday, November 17, 2014

Colloquium (11/20): Gary Hardcastle, "(Really) Recovering Understanding"

Gary Hardcastle, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bloomsburg University

Tuesday, November 20th, 4:30PM  » Willard Smith Library, Vaughan Literature Building

Abstract: 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).

This event is co-sponsored by the Philosophy Department and the Production of Public Understanding of Science project, which is itself funded by Professor Grimm's Varieties of Understanding project!