SOCIAL EPISTEMOLOGY by ADRIAN HADDOCK, ALAN MILLAR, AND DUNCAN PRITCHARD
These are exciting times for the field of social epistemology, which has grown quite dramatically in the last twenty-five years to become one of the mainstays of contemporary philosophy. The aim of this volume is to offer a cross-section of the excellent work that is currently being conducted on this topic. We feel that we have succeeded.
The very idea of approaching epistemological concerns from a perspective that is both social and philosophical (as opposed to sociological) is relatively new. As has often been observed, the epistemological enterprise—indeed, arguably philosophy more generally—has for much of its history, and certainly since Descartes, been cast along egocentric lines.
Where a non-egocentric approach has been taken, as in the recent work of naturalist epistemologists, the focus has been on individuals (not necessarily human) interacting with their environment rather than on the significance of social interaction for an understanding of the nature and value of knowledge.
Indeed, until quite recently the only kind of social topic discussed at any length by mainstream epistemologists was that of testimony, and even then the issue tended to be largely understood from the perspective of the consumer of the testimony rather than in terms of the complex social web in which testimonial exchanges take place.
Things are very different today, with social epistemology now firmly lodged at the very heart of a vibrant contemporary epistemological literature. For example, consider the current discussion of testimony.
From being a mainly peripheral part of the epistemological canon, testimony is now center stage, and as part of this transition, the very scope of the debate has altered to take in new topics.
This transition in the literature of testimony is well represented in the contributions to this volume. On the one hand, the papers by Ram Neta and Frederick F. Schmitt are specifically concerned with the work of a particularly prominent figure in the literature (Tyler Burge and Richard Moran, respectively), and thus in this sense constitute natural extensions—and enrichments—of the mainstream discussion.
On the other hand, the chapters by Jennifer Lackey, Michael P. Lynch, and Ernest Sosa explore a topic that is relatively new to the epistemology of testimony—the epistemology of disagreement—while other chapters take the mainstream debate about testimony in new directions by exploring the relevance of such notions as comprehension (Peter J. Graham), the social norm of trust (Paul Faulkner), and recognitional abilities (Alan Millar).
The real progress that has been made in the field of social epistemology is, however, best reflected in how the literature in this area now covers issues—often of a metaphilosophical flavor—which concern the topic of testimony only peripherally, if at all. This is reflected by the range of topics covered by the papers collected in this volume. At the metaphilosophical end of the spectrum, there are the papers by Lorraine Code, Alvin Goldman, and Miranda Fricker which raise wide-ranging issues about the nature of social epistemology and what it can contribute to epistemology more generally.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the chapters by Sanford C. Goldberg and Jonathan Kvanvig which examine particular epistemological issues that are salient to social epistemology (respectively, the epistemology of silence and epistemic value).
Lying between these two camps are the chapters by Matthew Chrisman and Klemens Kappel, which are concerned with the specific meta-epistemological issue of the social dimension of knowledge ascriptions.
This volume thus captures the tremendous diversity and depth of the contemporary debate in social epistemology. In doing so our hope is that it advances that debate still further.