Understanding Understanding

By Richard Mason

Subjects: Continental Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791458723, 140 pages, September 2003
Hardcover : 9780791458716, 140 pages, September 2003

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Table of contents


1. What We Understand

2. How We Understand

3. Understanding and Knowledge

4. Intelligibility

5. Failures of Understanding

6. Beyond Understanding

7. Wisdom



Index of Names

A study of the scope and limits of understanding.


How is understanding to be understood? Are there limits to understanding? What of importance, if anything, could lie beyond understanding? And do we need to understand knowledge before we can know about understanding? Richard Mason's argument is that a critical theory of under¬standing, modeled on past theories of knowledge, cannot be workable.

Understanding may bring wisdom: an uncomfort¬able thought for many philosophers in the twentieth century. Yet philosophy aims at expanding understanding at least as much as knowledge. How we understand understanding affects how we understand philosophy. If we put aside a narrow view of under¬standing based upon a Cartesian model of knowledge, we may gain a more liberal, open understanding of philosophy.

Mason's treatment of these fascinating problems offers a clear and lucid dialogue with a number of contemporary philosophical schools and with philosophy's past. His discussions include the thought of Hume, Henry James, Heidegger, Frege, Charles Taylor, Michael Oakeshott, Wittgenstein, Gadamer, James Joyce, and the Guyaki Indians. This fascinating book contributes to the work of many of these traditions as well as to the nature of understanding in areas as diverse as physics, music, and linguistics.

Richard Mason (1948–2006) was a Fellow of Wolfson College at Cambridge. He is the author of Before Logic and Oppenheimer's Choice: Reflections from Moral Philosophy, both also published by SUNY Press.