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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences : Philosophy

Undergraduate Course: Social Epistemology (PHIL10203)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryEpistemology has traditionally focussed on individuals and asked what it takes for their beliefs to be justified, count as knowledge, and contribute to understanding. Moreover, epistemology has often pursued answers to these questions that abstract away from social context. In response, this course focusses on the ways social context is important for thinking about justification, knowledge, and understanding. We consider topics such as the role of testimony in transmitting and expanding knowledge within groups of people, the idea of aggregating judgment within a group to form a collective opinion and realise the possibility of common knowledge and group understanding , the challenge of identifying and relying on experts, the role of social-political structures in enhancing or detracting from individual and group knowledge and understanding, and the phenomena of echo chambers and epistemic bubbles in the formation of political beliefs.
Course description Epistemology has traditionally focussed on individuals and asked what it takes for their beliefs to be justified, count as knowledge, and contribute to understanding. Moreover, epistemology has often pursued answers to these questions that abstract away from social context. In response, this course focusses on the ways social context is important for thinking about justification, knowledge, and understanding.

The precise topics covered may vary year to year and depending on who is teaching, but they will typically include 3-4 of the following:

1. Epistemology of testimony: Much of what we know comes from relying unquestioningly on the word of others, but not everyone is trustworthy. So does knowledge acquired through the testimony of require prior grounds for the reliability of the source, or is testimony a freestanding and fundamental source of knowledge. So here we consider various answers to this question.

2. Judgment aggregation and the wisdom/stupidity of crowds: What does the jury think about the guilt of the defendant, what does the scientific community think about the truth of some hypothesis, what does the market regard as a fair price for the commodity? Questions like these require a theory of how to aggregate diverse views of some group in order to articulate the group's view. So here we investigate several theories of how to do this and consider some of the many challenges to doing so well.

3. The challenge and importance of identifying experts: When forming beliefs about something complex and difficult, it is generally good to rely on the word of people that know more about the topic than you do, but how do you tell who the 'experts' are? And how can diverse expertise be integrated across various topics and fields, so that groups of people can advance their holistic understanding of multifaceted phenomena such as climate change, immigration, mental health, etc.? So here we evaluate several theories of expertise that seek to answer questions such as these.

4. Social structures and the promotion/deterioration of knowledge and understanding: One of the mantras of the philosophical and political enlightenment of the 18th century was that people should throw off the shackles of indoctrination and take responsibility for thinking for themselves in order to become free. But we know that what and how one thinks is hugely influenced by family, educational, cultural, and economic factors. So here we examine what kinds of social structures promote/undermine more knowledge and understanding, both in individuals and groups.

5. Democracy, markets, and knowledge: Generally, decisions based on knowledge are better than those based on ignorance. But voters in democracies are often thought to make their political decisions with relatively low levels of relevant knowledge, whereas consumers in capitalistic markets are often thought to make their economic decisions with relatively high levels of relevant knowledge (especially of comparative values and opportunity costs). Nevertheless, many would be loathed to say that market forces rather than political forces should be relied on for making collective decisions about how to live together. So here we explore this rich and thorny issue.

6. Echo chambers, epistemic bubbles, and polarisation: The contemporary (social-) media landscape has been described as creating echo chambers, wherein one only hears others who have similar views to oneself. This can have the effect of intensifying one's political views and the confidence with which one holds them. But there is different phenomenon of epistemic bubbles whereby one hears views that disagree with one's own but all too quickly discounts their reliability because they come from sources whose trustworthiness has been undermined in some way by one's original source of information. This sometimes has the effect of perpetuating conspiracy theories or epistemic injustice. So here we examine these phenomena and consider what might be done to mitigate their bad effects.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014) AND Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08017)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students studying on MA Cognitive Science (Humanities) are permitted to take this course without having met the pre-requisites of Mind, Matter and Language (PHIL08014) and Knowledge and Reality (PHIL08014). However, it is advisable that students discuss the suitability of the course with their PT and the course organiser before enrolling.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have completed at least 3 Philosophy courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission. These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 32, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 164 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) In class assignments (10%)
Essay outline (10%)
Peer feedback on essay outline (10%)
Final essay (70%)
Feedback Guidance will be given in advance of each assignment. This may be in the form of an in-class discussion, a handout, or discussion of a component of the assessed work. Instructor feedback on essay outline and peer feedback provides further formative opportunities ahead of final essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Analyse and evaluate central themes from social epistemology.
  2. Connect issues in abstract philosophical theory to concrete social challenges in a way that allows for complex analysis
  3. Understand and evaluate concepts such as testimony, judgement aggregation, common knowledge, structural epistemic dependency, expertise, epistemic arguments for democracy, echo chambers, epistemic bubbles.
  4. Display improved ability in core skills of philosophy, including analysing and evaluating complex philosophical texts, reconstructing difficult arguments, and developing critical ideas in response.
  5. Present one¿s own philosophical ideas clearly in writing and orally.
Reading List
Because the course may have a different focus each year and the field of social epistemology is rapidly changing, the following is merely indicative. Due to time constraints, only selections from the full books listed below would be covered and only articles relevant to the particular topics covered in a year would be assigned:

Anderson (2006) "The Epistemology of Democracy", Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology.
Audi (1997) "The Place of Testimony in the Fabric of Knowledge and Justification," American Philosophical Quarterly.
Coady (1991) Testimony: A Philosophical Study, Oxford University Press.
Coady (2012) What to Believe Now, Wiley-Blackwell.
Chrisman, Pritchard, Richmond (2017) "Should you believe what you hear?" in Philosophy for Everyone, Routledge.
Fricker (1995) "Critical Notice: Telling and Trusting: Reductionism and Anti-Reductionism in the Epistemology of Testimony," Mind.
Gilbert (2004) "Collective Epistemology", Episteme.
Goldberg (2010) Relying on Others, Oxford University Press
Goldman (2001)"Experts: Which Ones Should You Trust?" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
Goldman and O¿Connor (2019) " Social Epistemology," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Goldman and Whitcomb (eds.) (2011) Social Epistemology: Essential Readings, Oxford University Press.
Haddock, Millar, and Pritchard (eds.) (2010) Social Epistemology, Oxford University Press.
Hayek (1945) "The Use of Knowledge in Society" American Economic Review.
Herzog (2018) Reclaiming the System, Oxford University Press.
Kitcher (1990) "The Division of Cognitive Labor", Journal of Philosophy.
Lackey (2008) Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge, Oxford University Press.
Lackey (ed.) (2014) Essays in Collective Epistemology, Oxford University Press.
List and Pettit (2011) Group Agency: The Possibility, Design, and Status of Corporate Agents, Oxford University Press.
Landemore, (2011) Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many, Princeton University Press.
Moran (2018) The Exchange of Words: Speech, Testimony, and Intersubjectivity, Oxford University Press.
Millgram (2015) The Great Endarkenment: Philosophy for an Age of Hyperspecialization, Oxford University Press.
Nguyen (2020) "Echo chambers and epistemic bubbles," Episteme.
Pettigrew (2019) "On the Accuracy of Group Credences", in Oxford Studies in Epistemology Volume 6
Reider (ed.) (2016) Social Epistemology and Epistemic Agency, Roman & Littlefield.
Solomon (2006) "Groupthink versus The Wisdom of Crowds: The Social Epistemology of Deliberation and Dissent", The Southern Journal of Philosophy.
Talisse (2019) Democracy and Moral Conflict, Cambridge University Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students successfully completing this course will enhance their skills at critical and reflective thinking about theoretical and abstract topics but with a focus on application to concrete and complex social challenges. They will improve their written and oral communication skills, especially with regards to effectively and influentially articulating a convincing case for a controversial view on a subtle and complex topic. They will also have the opportunity to stoke their intellectual curiosity about complex theoretical topic in philosophy, clear thought about which can be foundation for making a positive difference in the world.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiser Course secretaryMs Catriona Keay
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