Emily Sullivan

Research Theme

​My research focuses on our practices of giving and receiving explanations or information. This includes the epistemology and structure of explanations and information sharing.  

Are there ways of spreading information that promotes epistemic goods or epistemic ills? In what way does society and political beliefs impact information sharing? What is the social function of understanding?

How can falsehoods or idealizations lead to epistemic goods like understanding?  At what point do scientific or social-scientific idealizations or abstractions lose their causal tether? What does this say about the sort of understanding we gain from these explanations?

Upcoming Talks

 18 May:  Understanding from Machine Learning 


                             Explainable AI:  University of         






Working Papers

(Drafts available upon request)

Epistemic Value and Understanding

I argue that the value of understanding lies in its social function as a marker of epistemic authority. 

Understanding and Grasping

I survey the extent to which a theory of grasping has been put forward in the understanding literature and make progress toward building such a theory.

Idealized Scientific Explanations and Epistemic Value (with Kareem Khalifa)

We argue that scientific idealizations that are strictly speaking false do not have epistemic value, but merely serve as psychological crutches.

Causal Explanation and Universality

In this paper I argue that renormalization group explanations of critical phenomena are causal explanations. 

Algorithmic Diversification of Viewpoints in News

(with Nava Tintarev, Dror Guldin, Sihang Qiu, Daan Odjik, Reza Aditya Permadi, and Andreas Christian Pangaribuan)

This paper introduces an approach to recommender systems that includes content that represents a diversity of viewpoints on a political topic. Our offline results show positive results for our distance measure with regard to diversification on topic. However, our user study results confirm that user acceptance of this diversification also needs to be addressed in tandem to enable a complete solution.