(manuscript). “From Science Wars to Social Epistemology: A Half-Century of Views About the Social Nature of Knowledge.”
In this paper, I survey and compare a half-century of diverse views on the social nature of knowledge-generation, from the External Factors debate, which occurred during the Science Wars of the 1970s, 80s, and early-90s, through the External and Social Turns in mainstream analytic epistemology, to a very recent family of views I call Extended Externalism. Views over this period differ in three important ways. On some accounts, social factors can be only occasioning factors: they can kick-start knowledge-generating processes that otherwise would not have commenced. On other accounts, social factors can be constitutive of the epistemic contexts in which knowledge is generated and appraised. On still other, more recent accounts, social factors can be constitutive of knowledge-generating processes themselves. At the conclusion of this paper, I tabulate these issues, generating a taxonomy of the key differences between a half-century of diverse views on the social nature of knowledge.
I connect two increasingly popular ideas in social epistemology—group knowledge and epistemic extension—both departures from mainstream epistemological tradition. In doing so, I generate a framework for conceptualizing and organizing contemporary epistemology along several core axes. This, in turn, allows me to delineate a largely unexplored frontier in group epistemology. The bulk of extant work in group epistemology can be dubbed intra-group epistemology: the study of epistemically salient happenings within groups. I delineate and attempt to motivate what I dub inter-group epistemology: the study of epistemically salient happenings between groups and other subjects and entities.
One can know how to ride a bicycle, play the cello, or collect experimental data. But who can know how to properly ride a tandem bicycle, perform a symphony, or run a high-energy physics experiment? Reductionist analyses fail to account for these cases strictly in terms of the individual know-how involved. Nevertheless, it doesn’t follow from non-reductionism that groups possess this know-how. One must first show that epistemic extension cannot obtain. This is the idea that individuals can possess knowledge even when others possess some of the epistemic materials (e.g. evidence possessed, abilities exercised) generating it. I show that only knowledge-that can be epistemically extended, not knowledge-how. Appeal to epistemic extension is a viable way of avoiding group knowledge-that ascriptions but not group knowledge-how ascriptions. Therefore, groups can know how.
(2016). “Justified Group Belief in Science.” Social Epistemology Review & Reply Collective 5(9): 6-12.
Silvia Tossut (2016) offers an insightful reply to my criticism (Dragos 2016) of Rolin (2008). I first recap the debate and address two of Tossut’s objections. I then concede to a third: in Dragos (2016) I mistake Rolin’s (2008) argument as a token of a more general argument I reject in a larger project. Now properly understood as a different sort of argument, I apply a criticism offered by de Ridder (2014) to Rolin’s (2008) argument. With considerations from Wray’s (2016) reply to Dragos (2016), I close by addressing a fourth objection from Tossut.
Kristina Rolin and Brad Wray agree with an increasing number of epistemologists that knowledge can sometimes be attributed to a group and to none of its individual members. That is, collective knowledge sometimes obtains. However, Rolin charges Wray with being too restrictive about the kinds of groups to which he attributes collective knowledge. She rejects Wray’s claim that only scientific research teams can know while the general scientific community cannot. Rolin forwards a ‘default and challenge’ account of epistemic justification toward her argument that even the general scientific community can know because it’s sometimes the general scientific community, and none of its individual members, that attains epistemic justification. I argue that Rolin faces a dilemma: either she must herself be more restrictive about the kinds of groups to which she attributes collective knowledge or she must concede the general claim that collective knowledge obtains at all.
(2013, second author to K. Kraay). “On Preferring God's Non-Existence.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 43(2): 157-78.
For many centuries, philosophers have debated this question: ‘Does God exist?’ Surprisingly, they have paid rather less attention to this distinct – but also very important – question: ‘Would God’s existence be a good thing?’ The latter is an axiological question about the difference in value that God’s existence would make (or does make) in the actual world. Perhaps the most natural position to take, whether or not one believes in God, is to hold that it would be a very good thing if such a being were to exist. After all, God is traditionally thought to be perfectly powerful and good, and it might seem obvious that such a being’s existence would make things better than they would otherwise be. But this judgment has been contested: somen philosophers have held that God’s existence would make things worse, and that, on this basis, one can reasonably prefer God’s non-existence. We first distinguish a wide array of axiological positions concerning the value of God’s existence which might be held by theists, atheists, and agnostics alike. We next construe these positions as comparative judgments about the axiological status of various possible worlds. We then criticize an important recent attempt to show that God’s existence would make things worse, in various ways, than they would otherwise be.
Peter van Inwagen’s ‘No-Minimum’ argument boldly rejects a proposition widely accepted by theists and atheists alike: God and gratuitous evil are incompatible. Jeff Jordan (2003) criticizes van Inwagen’s argument and (Jordan 2011) defends his position against Michael Schrynemakers (2007). I present two criticisms of Jordan. Concerning his first paper, I argue that if it is plausible to suppose that there exist undetectable evils, Jordan’s argument is incomplete. Concerning his second paper, I show how Jordan fails to engage adequately with Schrynemakers’s reply and, more seriously, with the notion of satisficing implicit in van Inwagen’s No-Minimum argument. To draw out this second criticism, I make use of another debate in the philosophy of religion: the problem of no-best-world.
(2019). “Changing Your Mind, Closing Your Mind.” Review of M. Fisch (2017). Creatively Undecided: Toward a History and Philosophy of Scientific Agency. University of Chicago Press. Metascience 28(1): 33-5.
“Fisch’s account is a hybrid between Popperian and Kuhnian ideas that are typically taken to stand in deep tension: (1) one can rationally modify one’s commitments (i.e. beliefs, values, norms) only through critical introspection; (2) such modifications must proceed on the authority of one’s own endorsed framework of commitments. The central philosophical question of the monograph is, how can one rationally modify one’s most foundational or central commitments—i.e. one’s framework principles—through critical introspection? If rational self-criticism can proceed only on the authority of one’s framework principles, what recourse does one have to rationally modify those very framework principles?… The central philosophical insight of Creatively Undecided… is that an individual’s rationality—or, at least maintaining the epistemic health of one’s framework principles—requires external epistemically salient inputs. On Fisch’s model, one can become sufficiently ambivalent toward one of her framework principles though dialogue with a trusted critic of that principle… This way, the targeted framework principle can be dislodged from one’s other framework principles, bringing it under the purview of one’s framework.“
(2017). “Knowledge & Groups.” Review of M. S. Brady & M. Fricker (2016). The Epistemic Life of Groups: Essays in the Epistemology of Collectives. Oxford University Press. Metascience 26(2): 215-8.
“The Epistemic Life of Groups contains valuable contributions to distinct threads in the expanding and interdisciplinary field of collective epistemology. It is organized into four parts: Epistemology, Ethics, Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of Science. Due to the diverse nature of this collection and the likely interests of this journal’s audience, I focus on the Philosophy of Science essays. Science is a highly collaborative domain of human knowledge production. Thus, collective epistemology is a natural place of departure from mainstream epistemology’s traditionally shallow engagement with science…”
(2015). Review of L. Zagzebski (2012). Epistemic Authority: A Theory of Trust, Authority, & Autonomy in Belief. Oxford University Press. Faith & Philosophy 32(2): 211-9.
“The claim that there are legitimate epistemic authorities will set off alarm bells for many, and if it does not, the claim that there are legitimate moral and religious epistemic authorities in particular will likely do the trick. Linda Zagzebski makes both claims in her monograph, Epistemic Authority. An epistemic authority for me is, roughly, someone whose belief regarding p I adopt because I trust her capacity to arrive at the correct verdict regarding p more than I trust my own capacity to do so. These claims concerning authority are notably stronger than the claim some philosophers make, including Zagzebski, that another’s belief that p provides credibility for p independently of my other reasons for p or for the reliability of that other believer. To support the former, more advanced claims about authority and also, intermediately, the claim for the prima facie credibility of others’ beliefs, Zagzebski retreats to construct what is, I think, the most robust account of self-trust yet offered. It is on this notion that her account rests. In this review, I present the core of that account (chaps. 2, 3, and 5) and when necessary I touch on other parts of her book. I pose two criticisms, the first quite minor while the second calls for a clarification of an important cog in Zagzebski’s larger argument. I conclude by identifying what I see as the greatest strength and the importance of the book…”