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Conference Papers Year : 2014

Questioning Reliabilism as the Basis of Social Epistemology through a Case Study.


Alvin Goldman, in Knowledge in a Social World (1999), developed the project of a social epistemology. The starting point of this new epistemology is the recognition of (1.) the individualistic nature of a significant portion of classical epistemology and (2.) the need to develop anti-individualistic epistemology which takes care of social factors and their roles in the pursuit of knowledge. More precisely, it is the internalist position in epistemology which is stigmatized by Goldman. According to this position, the “justification is solely determined by factors that are internal to a person” (Poston 2008); in other words, the epistemic inquiry should be centered only on individuals who are able to justify their beliefs by themselves. At the opposite, a “social” epistemology is, above all else, an externalist one. Indeed, a social epistemologist would argue that there are beliefs which are justified (or warranted) by external “social” factors (Pouivet 1997, p.6); their justifications are, consequently, not entirely accessible to believers because they depend of the context, of the belief–forming process, etc. The believer does not possess by himself his justification. The form of externalism used to develop the social epistemology of Alvin Goldman is reliabilism. According to this thesis, it is the belief-forming process or method which is relevant to study the justification or the warranty of the belief (Goldman 1979); at the opposite, internalism would ask to the believer to expose his reasons to believe and then, evaluate them in order to insure the justification of the belief. Applied to social epistemology, reliabilism allows us to compare different social processes in terms of truth-getting or truth-indicating properties. For example, in the famous case of the novice and the two experts who disagree (Goldman 2007), there are different methods or processes for the layperson to produce a rational choice (to listen a debate between the two experts, to call meta-experts, . . . ) which are more or less interesting for the pursuit of knowledge. In this talk, I would like to discuss the choice of the reliabilism to develop a social epistemology. I am wondering if it is the best candidate to develop such epistemology. For this presentation, I will leave aside standard and theoretical issues such as the “swamping argument” or the value problem (for a presentation of these arguments, see Kvanvig 2003; Zagzebski 2003; for counterarguments and answers, see Goldman and Olsson 2009). Indeed, I will rather go to the field of applied epistemology (Coady 2012) with a case study. I will focus on the epistemic processes inside Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia in order to present two manner to understand this epistemic community. One can understand Wikipedia in reliabilist terms by focusing on editing processes without taking care of the personal characteristics of the contributors. According to this understanding of Wikipedia, no matter the person, it is the structure of the encyclopedia which warrants a high ratio of epistemically valuable actions. One can also understand Wikipedia in terms close to the virtue epistemology by focusing on the epistemic personality of contributors. After a careful and illustrated study, I will try to show that a virtue based epistemology could described Wikipedia in a better way than a social epistemology based on reliabilism. In the case of Wikipedia, the virtue epistemology has a good explanatory power when reliabilism fails to explain some empirical processes of the free encyclopedia. Finally, I will analyze the possibility to generalize this result to the global social epistemology project.


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halshs-01217531 , version 1 (26-10-2015)




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Pierre Willaime. Questioning Reliabilism as the Basis of Social Epistemology through a Case Study.. European Epistemology Network Meeting 2014, Jun 2014, Madrid, France. ⟨halshs-01217531⟩
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