|Abstract||What is social epistemology? Or what might it be? According to one perspective, social epistemology is a branch of traditional epistemology that studies epistemic properties of individuals that arise from their relations to others, as well as epistemic properties of groups or social systems. A simple example (of the first sort) is the transmission of knowledge or justification from one person to another. Studying such interpersonal epistemic relations is a legitimate part of epistemology. A very different perspective would associate ‘social epistemology’ with movements in postmodernism, social studies of science, or cultural studies that aim to replace traditional epistemology with radically different questions, premises, or procedures. Although these enquiries examine the social contexts of belief and thought, they generally seek to debunk or reconfigure conventional epistemic concepts rather than illuminate the nature and conditions of epistemic success or failure. Under the first construal social epistemology is a bona fide part of the mainstream, and hence ‘real’ epistemology. Under the second construal, it is not part of epistemology at all. If protagonists of the latter-day movements marketed their products under the guise of epistemology, they would be imposters. Their products are not real epistemology. ‘Is social epistemology real epistemology?’ is a question posed by William Alston (2005). He raises it en passant, while noting that epistemology’s boundaries are controversial, drawn differently by different thinkers. To illustrate his point, he suggests that much of the material in my book on social epistemology, Knowledge in a Social World (Goldman 1999), ‘would be rejected by many contemporary epistemologists as ‘‘not real epistemology’’ ’ (Alston 2005: 5). The epistemologists in question, says Alston, would relegate much of this so-called social epistemology to sociology, social psychology, or other social sciences, or perhaps to the philosophical foundations thereof..|
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