Social Epistemology

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Course Description

Social epistemology is the study of the epistemic effects of our social institutions and practices. Related questions have been asked since antiquity, but it has only been since the turn of the twenty-first century that social epistemology has come into its own as a subject of inquiry. Further, social epistemology has never been more relevant, thanks current events like Brexit or the rise of populism in Western democracies. In this course, we will study three of the most important topics of social epistemology: peer disagreement, expert testimony, and collective epistemology. We will study the work of Feldman, Fricker, Zagzebski, Elga, Goldman, and many others. No prior advanced knowledge of epistemology is required for success in this course, but some general familiarity will be assumed.

Course Texts

1.  E-Readings, as per the schedule.

Course Requirements

Requirement Description Weight
Response Essays Two 1400-word essays on topics assigned by the Instructor. 30%
Essay One 2250-word essay chosen from topics assigned by the Instructor. 30%
Participation Self-assessed on the quality and quantity of participation. 10%
Final Examination One sit-down cumulative examination. 30%

Course Schedule

Week Topic Day Readings
01 Social Epistemology Tues [no class]
Thurs Syllabus; Clifford (1877), “The Ethics of Belief”

Peer Disagreement

02 Feldman, “Reasonable Religious Disagreements”
03 Christensen, “Epistemology of Disagreement: The Good News”
04 Elgin, “Persistent Disagreement”

Expert Testimony

05 Goldman, “Experts: Which Ones Do You Trust?”
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07 Turner, “What’s the Problem with Experts?
08 Whyte and Crease, “Trust, Expertise, and the Philosophy of Science”
09 Lane, “When the Experts are Uncertain: Scientific Knowledge and the Ethics of Democratic Judgment”

Collective Epistemology

10 Surowiecki, “The Wisdom of Crowds”
11 Pettit, “When to Defer to Majority Testimony—And When Not”
12 Fricker, M. “Group Testimony: The Making of a Collective Good Informant”
13 Lackey, “What is Justified Group Belief?”