Catherine Z. Elgin

True Enough

Principal Investigator

Catherine Z. Elgin
Professor of the Philosophy of Education
Harvard 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. This project 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.