“Epistemological Communities” and the Problem of Epistemic Agency

Social Epistemology 25 (4):341 - 360 (2011)
Abstract
There is a tendency, a bad tendency, to make epistemic agency the central focus of epistemology. In brief, epistemologists have traditionally elevated epistemic agency as the crucial issue to be addressed, and ask all other epistemological questions in light of that issue. This is not surprising given the Cartesian influence on epistemology, but I argue that epistemic agency should not always be the central focus of epistemology. There are times when giving central place to epistemic agency gets in the way of good epistemology. In this paper, I show how one approach to a communitarian epistemology falters precisely because of the primacy given to epistemic agency. Specifically, I take a close look at Lynn Hankinson Nelson?s notion of epistemological communities in terms of epistemic agency and analyze both its merits and its shortcomings. This is an important analysis for general consideration given the trend in non-traditional epistemologies to look towards social complexes as the real seats of knowledge. But this is also important because my analysis pushes one to consider an alternative framing concept for epistemology?that of epistemic practises instead of epistemic agency
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