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Faculty & Research

Catherine Elgin

Professor of Education

Catherine Elgin

Degree:  Ph.D., Brandeis University, (1975)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.496.0504
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Vitae/CV:   Catherine Elgin.pdf
Office:  Larsen 404
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member
Faculty Assistant:  Joelle Mottola


Catherine Elgin is a philosopher whose areas of study include the theory of knowledge, philosophy of art, and philosophy of science. Recent work considers the question of what makes something cognitively valuable. Elgin has argued that the pursuit of understanding, rather than the pursuit of knowledge, should be the focus of epistemology's concerns. Her recent work explores how similar problems arise in diverse branches of philosophy such as aesthetics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science.

Click here to see a full list of Catherine Elgin's courses.

Areas of Expertise
Sponsored Projects

True Enough (2015-2016)
Fordham University

Epistemology deems truth necessary for epistemic success. Science poses a challenge, for it uses models and though experiments that are known not to be true. True Enough will explain how such devices – call them felicitous falsehoods – contribute to understanding. It will argue that they exemplify features they share with the phenomena, thereby affording epistemic access to those features. Epistemic acceptability does not require truth. A consideration is acceptable if it contributes to the reflective equilibrium of the network of epistemic commitments it belongs to. This theory accommodates models and thought experiments. It also explains how the arts embody and advance understanding. The theory is underwritten by a quasi-Kantian account of epistemic normativity. Communities of inquiry function as realms of epistemic ends. Like Kantian moral agents members of such communities make and reflectively endorse the commitments that bind them.

Epistemic Normativity (2014-2014)
John Templeton Foundation

The pessimistic induction is this: the history of science is a history of failure. Time after time, well supported theories have been discredited. Therefore, it is overwhelmingly likely that currently accepted theories will be discredited too. The optimistic riposte is that science is not just a history of failures. The advancement of inquiry has enabled scientists to improve the methods and correct the errors of their forebears. This may not vindicate current theories, but it provides reason to think that science is making real epistemic progress. Conclusion: we should neither abandon hope of achieving scientific understanding, nor be confident that we have already got it. Our situation thus calls for intellectual humility. That attitude, I urge, is not one of passivity in the face of human frailty. It is an active orientation toward a domain of inquiry and our prospects of understanding it. It might seem that the entire payoff for exercising intellectual humility is that we either uncover previously undetected errors or provide added assurance that our conclusions are correct. This is surely one payoff. But there is another important epistemic benefit. In taking the possibility that we might be wrong seriously, we can treat that possibility as itself worthy of investigation. To conduct such an investigation, we need to identify the potential fault lines our currently accepted account. If current understanding of the phenomena is wrong, where is the error likely to be located? What are the weakest links in our argument? If there is an error, what would show it? By attempting to answer such questions, I will urge, we enrich our understanding of the phenomena and our methods for investigating it. A critical question is how a discipline can exploit its intellectual humility. I argue that a community of inquiry, like a Kantian moral community, makes the laws that bind it. A scientific community accommodates itself to the permanent possibility of error by setting high standards for the acceptability of findings, integrating mechanisms for detecting and correcting errors, and insisting that evidence be statistically significant, that experiments be reproducible, and that reasons be publicly articulable and assessable. Its members hold themselves and one another to these standards because they they think that by satisfying these standards they will maximize their prospects of achieving the sort of understanding they seek. The self-monitoring, self-critical character of the practice is a manifestation of institutional intellectual humility. Such institutional intellectual humility becomes personal intellectual humility when practitioners recognize that it does not just foster but in part constitute the understanding their discipline provides. Then living up to those standards is a mark of intellectual integrity. Because moral/epistemic values such as open-mindedness, trustworthiness, and humility are interwoven into the fabric of science, they are components of good science. They should be inculcated in science education.

'Is Understanding Factive?' Epistemic value, ed. Duncan Pritchard, Alan Miller, and Adrian Haddock, Oxford University press, 322-330.,(2007)

‘Understanding and the Facts,’ Philosophical Studies, 132, 33-42.,(2007)

‘Die kognitiven Funktion der Fiktion,’ Kunst Denken, ed. Alex Burri & Wolfgang Huemer, Paderborn: Mentis, 77-90.,(2007)

‘The Fusion of Fact and Value,’ Iride, 20, 83-101 (in Italian).,(2007)

‘The Laboratory of the Mind,’ Kreativität: XX Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie, Kolloquiumsbeiträge, ed. Günter Abel, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 772-784; A Sense of the World: Essays on Fiction, Narrative, and Knowledge, ed. Wolfgang Huemer, John Gibson, and Luca Pocci. London, Routledge, pp. 43-54.,(2006)

‘From Knowledge to Understanding,’ Epistemology Futures ed. Stephen Hetherington, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 199-215.,(2006)

‘Non-Foundationalist Epistemology: Holism, Tenability and Coherence,’ Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, ed. Matthias Steup and Ernest Sosa. Boston: Blackwell, pp. 156-167.,(2005)

‘Pragmatism, Historicism, and/or Reflective Equilibrium’, Proceedings of the Philosophy of Education Society, 57-59.,(2005)

‘Changing Core Values,’ Newsletter for the Study of East Asian Civilizations, September, 20-28.,(2005)

‘Optional Stops, Foregone Conclusions, and the Value of Argument,’ Croatian Journal of Philosophy 4 , 317-329.,(2004)

‘High Stakes,’ Theory and Research in Education, 2, 271-281.,(2004)

‘Denying a Dualism: Goodman’s Repudiation of the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction,’ Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 28, 226-238.,(2004)

‘True Enough,’ Philosophical Issues 14, 113-131.,(2004)

‘Erkenntnistheoretisches Gleichgewicht,’ Wissen zwischen Entdeckung und Konstruktion. Erkenntnis-theoretische Kontroversen, Matthias Vogel and Lutz Wingert, editors. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, pp. 193-217.,(2003)

‘Esempli Parlanti’, Prometeo vol. 21 no. 82, 14-29.,(2003)

‘Creation as Reconfiguration,’ International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16, 13-25.,(2002)

‘Art in the Advancement of Understanding,’ American Philosophical Quarterly, 39, 1-12; Wissensformen in denSozial- und Kulturwissenschaften, forthcoming in German.,(2002)

‘Take It From Me: The Epistemological Status of Testimony,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXV, 291-308.,(2002)

‘Originals, Copies, and Fakes,’ Proceedings of the Gesselschaft für Analytische Philosophie, Mentis, 339-355.,(2001)

‘Word Giving, Word Taking,’ Fact and Value: Essays for Judith Jarvis Thomson, ed. Alex Byrne, Robert Stalnaker, and Ralph Wedgwood, Cambridge: MIT Press, 97-116; Truth: A Dialogue Between Philosophical Traditions, edited by Jose Medina and David Wood, Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, pp. 271-287.,(2001)

‘The Legacy of Nelson Goodman’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 62, 679-690.,(2001)

‘What’s the Use?’ The Hedgehog Review, vol. 3 no. 3, 9-25.,(2001)

‘Interpretation and Understanding,’ Erkenntnis, 52, 175-183.,(2000)

‘Reconceiving Cognition, Reorienting Aesthetics,’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 58, 219-225.,(2000)

‘Worldmaker: Nelson Goodman,’ Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 31, 1-18.,(2000)

‘Interpretation und Verstehen,’ Wirklichkeit und Welterzeugung ed. Hans Rudi Fischer and Siegfried Schmidt, Carl AuerSysteme Verlag, 364-372.,(2000)

‘Education and the Advancement of Understanding,’ Proceedings of the 20th World Congress of Philosophy, Volume 3., ed. David M. Steiner, Philosophy Documentation Center, pp. 131-140; Philosophy of Education, ed. Randall Curren, Malden: Blackwell, 2007, 417-422.,(1999)

‘Epistemology’s Ends, Pedagogy’s Prospects,’ Facta Philosophica, 1, 39-54.,(1999)

‘The Power of Parsimony,’ Philosophia Scientiae, 2, 89-104; reprinted in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 45, 487-499 (in German).,(1997)

Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.,(1997)

‘Icon and Index Revisited,’ Peirce's Doctrine of Signs: Theory, Applications and Connections, Vincent Colepietro andThomas Olshewsky, eds., (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1996), 181-189.,(1996)

Considered Judgment, Princeton: Princeton University Press.,(1996)

‘Line Drawing,’ Dialektik, 3, 81-93.,(1996)

‘Metaphor and Reference,’ From a Metaphorical Point of View, Zdravko Radman, ed., (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter), 53-72.,(1996)

‘Unnatural Science,’ The Journal of Philosophy, 92, 289-302.,(1995)

‘Restoration and Work Identity,’ Representation: Relationship Between Language and Image, S. Levialdi and C. Bernardelli, eds., (Singapore: World Scientific), 101-107.,(1994)

‘Scheffler's Symbols,’ Synthese, 94, 3-12.,(1993)

‘Relocating Aesthetics: Goodman's Epistemological Turn,’ Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 2-3, 171-186.,(1993)

‘Outstanding Problems: Replies to our ZiF Critics,’ Synthese, 95, 129-140.,(1993)

‘Fiction's Functions,’ Les Cahiers du Musée National d'Art Moderne, 41, 33-44, (in French).,(1992)

‘Understanding: Art and Science,’ Philosophy and the Arts, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Peter A. French, Theodore E.Uehling, Jr., and Howard Wettstein, eds., (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press), 196-208; reprinted in Synthese, 95 (1993), 13-28; in Lire Goodman, J. Cometti, ed., (Combas: Editions d'Eclat, 1992), 49-67 (in French).,(1991)

‘What Goodman Leaves Out,’ Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25, 89-96.,(1991)

‘Sign, Symbol, and System,’ Journal of Aesthetic Education 25, 11-21.,(1991)

Esthétique et Connaissance: Pour changer de Sujet (with Nelson Goodman), Combas: Editions de l'Eclat, in French.,(1990)

‘Facts That Don't Matter,’ Meaning and Method: Essays in Honor of Hilary Putnam, George Boolos, ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 17-30.,(1990)

‘The Relativity of Fact and the Objectivity of Value,’ Relativism: Interpretation and Confrontation, Michael Krausz, ed.,(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press), 86-98; reprinted in Harvard Review of Philosophy, VI (1999) 4-15; Analytic Philosophy, ed. Jordan Lindberg, Mountain View, California: Mayfield, 2001, 390-398.,(1989)

‘On Knowing and Making,’ (with Nelson Goodman), Encyclopedie Philosophique Universelle, vol. I: L'Univers Philosophique, Paris: Presses Universitaire de France, 520-528, (in French).,(1989)

‘The Epistemic Efficacy of Stupidity,’ Synthese, 74, 297-311; reprinted in Theoria (Yugoslavia), 34 (1) (1992),115-124 (in Yugo/Serbo Croatian).,(1988)

Reconceptions (with Nelson Goodman), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.; London: Routledge; Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989, in German; Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994, in French; Tokyo: Misuzo Shobo, 2002, in Japanese.,(1988)

‘Changing the Subject,’ (with Nelson Goodman), The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46 (1987), 219-223;reprinted in Analytic Aesthetics, Richard Shusterman, ed., (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 190-196; and inEstetyka w swiecie, ed. Maria Golaszewska (in Polish).,(1987)

‘Mainsprings of Metaphor,’ (with Israel Scheffler), The Journal of Philosophy, 84, 331-335.,(1987)

‘The Cost of Correspondence,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 47, 475-480.,(1987)

‘Interpretation and Identity,’ (with Nelson Goodman), Critical Inquiry, 12, 564-574.,(1986)

‘Translucent Belief,’ The Journal of Philosophy, 82, 74-91.,(1985)

‘Representation, Comprehension, and Competence,’ Social Research 51, 905-925; reprinted in Varieties of Thinking, Vernon Howard, ed., (New York: Routledge, 1990), 62-75.,(1984)

‘Projectibility,’ Kos I, 3, 115-118, (in Italian).,(1984)

‘Kinds, Natural or Not?’ Kos I, 8, 109-111, (in Italian).,(1984)

‘Goodman's Rigorous Relativism,’ The Journal of Thought, vol. 19, no. 4, 36-45.,(1984)

‘Theory Reduction: A Question of Fact or a Question of Value?’ Physical Sciences and the History of Physics, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 87, Robert Cohen and Marx Wartofsky, eds., (Dordrecht: D. Reidel), 75-92.,(1983)

With Reference to Reference, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.,(1983)

‘Indeterminacy, Underdetermination, and the Anomalism of the Mental,’ Synthese 45, 233-255.,(1980)

‘Lawlikeness and the End of Science,’ Philosophy of Science 47, 56-68.,(1980)

‘Quine's Double Standard: Indeterminacy and Quantifying In,’ Synthese 42, 353-377.,(1979)

‘Wittgenstein, Sellars, and Conceptual Change,’ (with Richard Burian), Wittgenstein and His Impact on Contemporary Thought, Werner Leinfellner et al., eds., (Vienna: Holder-Pichler- Tempsky), 221-225.,(1978)

‘The Impossibility of Saying What is Shown,’ The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 16, 617-627.,(1978)

‘Reference, Analysis, and the Tractarian Conception of Semantics,’ (with Jonathan E. Adler), Wittgenstein and His Impact on Contemporary Thought, Werner Leinfellner et al., eds., (Vienna: Holder-Pichler-Tempsky),133-138.,(1978)

‘Analysis and the Picture Theory in the Tractatus,’ Philosophy Research Archives II, no. 1116.,(1976)

Advisory Board, American Philosophical Association Committee on the Philosophy of Education

Advisory Board, Harvard Center for Ethics and the Professions

American Philosophical Association

Editorial Board, American Philosophical Quarterly

Editorial Board, International Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Editorial Board, Theory and Research in Education

Philosophy of Education Society

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