Meeting on Epistemic Dependence on Others and Artifacts

 Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)

Sala de Juntas, Módulo VII

January 14-16, 2016

Cognitive agents often need to rely on others and artifacts in order to get knowledge. This fact suggests that cognitive agency is strongly dependent on factors that go beyond the kenof the individual. A complex environment of groups, technology and norms where our cognitive agency is exercised shapes our knowledge-conductive practices. This conference explores different issues on the epistemological significance of the phenomenon of epistemic dependence.


Jesús Vega Encabo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
Fernando Broncano-Berrocal (Universiteit Leuwen)


J. Adam Carter (University of Edinburgh)
Pascal Engel (EHSS, Paris)
Elisabeth Fricker (Magdalen College, University of Oxford)
Sanford Goldberg (Northwestern University)
John Greco (St. Louis University)
Bjørn Hallsson (University of Copenhagen)
Klemens Kappel (University of Copenhagen)
Christoph Kelp (KU Leuven)
Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern University)
Benjamin McMyler (Texas A&M University)


Program schedule:

January 14, 2016 (Thursday) January 15, 2016 (Friday)
9:30 – 10:45

John Greco (St. Louis University)
A New Problem of Epistemic Dependence: Or, Things Are Worse than We Thought

Almost everyone will grant that cultures transmit knowledge from generation to generation. For example, we learn all sorts of things about health, nutrition, local history, etc., largely by internalizing the “common knowledge” of our community. Indeed, to deny this would be to accept a broad-ranging skepticism. Here is a problem: Common knowledge is transmitted along side lots of garbage. That is, besides transmitting genuine knowledge, cultures manage to transmit lots of beliefs that are irrational, superstitious, self-deceiving, and flat out false. So how is that possible? How is it that the very same cultural channels manage to transmit both knowledge and garbage together? Call this The Garbage Problem. Part One of the paper explicates the problem in more detail. Part Two argues that the problem seems unsolvable by extant theories of knowledge and extant approaches to testimonial knowledge. Part Three explores a radical solution: Mechanisms of knowledge transmission operate on the principle of knowledge in, knowledge out, garbage in, garbage out, even when neither the speaker, the hearer, nor the broader social system can discriminate between knowledge and garbage.

10:00 – 11:15

Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern University)
Group Dependence and Group Norms

We are all members of various groups—universities, associations, churches, organizations, and so on. Belonging to groups can be beneficial in many ways, e.g., by permitting a division of intellectual labor and by bringing new sorts of knowledge within reach. But belonging to groups also brings with it a new sort of epistemic dependence on others. In this paper, I trace the ways this sort of dependence arises and is managed through epistemic norms. In particular, I investigate whether our membership in various groups give rise to new epistemic norms, and whether these group epistemic norms diverge from those governing us as individual epistemic agents.

10:45 – 12:00

Christoph Kelp (KU Leven)

How To Be an Anti-Reductionist

11:45 – 13:00

J. Adam Carter (University of Edinburgh) and Robin McKenna (University of Vienna)
Epistemic Dependence and Environment Relativism

In recent work, Jesper Kallestrup and Duncan Pritchard (2012; 2013; 2014; Forthcoming) have, in opposition to robust forms of virtue epistemology (e.g. Greco 2010; 2012; Sosa 2009; 2015), argued for what they call epistemic dependence, viz., the thesis that whether one’s true belief qualifies as knowledge often times depends not primarily on our own efforts, but on the environment in which we are embedded. While it is tempting to regard Kallestrup and Pritchard’s line as holding that knowledge is ‘environment relative’, the kind of relativity here is metaepistemologically benign. It is, after all, entirely compatible with what Paul Boghossian (2001; 2006) calls metaepistemological absolutism, the thesis that epistemic principles are objective, universally true and demarcative. Our primary objective is to show, beyond what Kallestrup and Pritchard have themselves suggested, that there is a strand of epistemic dependence which runs much deeper. The thesis we defend is called environment relativism, the view that validity or truth of an epistemic principle is relative to the environment in which it is applied. This more radical kind of epistemic dependence, unlike Kallestrup and Pritchard’s metaepistemologically benign epistemic dependence, is genuinely at odds with metaepistemological absolutism. We conclude by situating this more provocative form of environment relativism within more general debates about metaepistemology, realism and relativism.

12:15 – 13:30

Klemens Kappel (University of Copenhagen) and Bjørn Hallsson (University of Copenhagen)

Epistemic Dependency and the Rationality of Cognitive Biases

14:45 – 16:00

Elisabeth Fricker (Magdalen College, University of Oxford)
The Prizes and Perils of Trusting Others

In the modern world, each one of us enjoys huge benefits arising from the exercise of specialised epistemic and practical expertises by others. One depends for these benefits on these others who possess skills that one lacks oneself. This dependence is direct when one trusts what an expert in some domain tells one, or relies on an expert to exercise a specialist practical skill on one’s behalf; and indirect, when one relies directly on complex machines and technology designed by such experts.

This dependence engenders risks, as well as gains. Moreover, it may be that one forgoes something that is part of human flourishing, when one fails to acquire a skill, and instead relies entirely on others, or on devices designed and created by others, to achieve a practical end. I consider these matters. In particular, I consider the status of the following principle, considered as applying to all humans:

Skills Have Intrinsic Value (SHIV): For any possible human skill (practical-and/or-epistemic), one has some reason (pro tanto reason) to acquire that skill; where this reason is not merely instrumental; and applies to one regardless of whether one has subjective inclination to acquire that skill.

I will argue that the unrestricted principle SHIV has no obvious defence available; but that there is a plausible case to be made that each one of us has some reason to acquire some skills (to bring it about that there are some skills that one possesses); and furthermore, that there are certain core skills – whose possession and exercise is essential to human agency – that each and every one of us has some reason to acquire. I suggest that the ability to locate oneself in one’s environment, and to navigate one’s way around it unaided, is such a core skill.

15:15 – 16:30

Benjamin McMyler (Texas A&M University)
On Not Making Up One’s Own Mind

This paper presents a general account of the way in which social influence by authority impacts on the agency exercised in theoretical and practical reasoning, in “making up our minds” what is the case and what to do. I argue that social influence by authority differs from other forms of social influence like coercion and argumentative persuasion in that, when successful, it serves to parcel out rational responsibility for an agent’s belief or action between the agent and the authority. Authorities are thus partially responsible, and open to criticism, for whether the agent’s authority-based belief or action lives up to the rational standards at play in the situation. As a result, when the rationality of an agent’s authority-based belief or action is challenged, the agent is rationally entitled (in certain situations and to a certain extent) to “pass the buck” back to the authority. The agent is rationally entitled to maintain her belief or continue to act without being able to meet the challenge herself by deferring responsibility for meeting the challenge to the authority. It is in this respect that, when an agent believes or acts on authority, she is not making up her own mind what is the case or what to do. In believing or acting on authority, an agent is making up her mind in a way that cedes partial rational responsibility for her belief or action to the authority.

16:30 – 17:45

Sanford Goldberg (Northwestern University)
Epistemic Dependence in Epistemically Protected Environments

There would appear to be some important epistemic differences between relying on the output of a piece of technology and relying on an epistemic subject (such as another person). Even so, it is important to note that our reliance on technology is often part and parcel of a systematic sort of reliance we have on other people — including (but not limited to) the people who invent, manufacture, and certify the technology itself as well as those who teach it to us. In this paper I aim to see how epistemic theory ought to acknowledge this more diffuse sort of reliance on others. One result of my account is to suggest that the two cases of reliance (on technology and on people) may be closer (epistemically speaking) than they original seemed, though I do think that they remain epistemically distinct.

16:45 – 18:00

Pascal Engel (EHSS, Paris)
Collective Knowledge and Epistemic Agency

A number of objections have been raised against the possibility of collective knowledge. The most promising accounts, however, rely on the commitment model for collective beliefs. This model supposes that believers engage in a certain kind of action. Can it be transposed to knowledge? I argue that a number of objections raised against the idea of epistemic agency apply to collective knowledge so construed. Knowledge, individual or collective, is not the product of a certain kind of action.

January 16, 2016 (Saturday)

9:30-10:30 Discussion: Relying on others

10:30-12:00 Discussion: Relying on artifacts

12:00 General discussion

Click here to download the Program and Abstracts in PDF