Extending cognition in epistemology : towards an individualistic social epistemology

Abstract

The aim of the present thesis is to reconcile two opposing intuitions; one originating from mainstream individualistic epistemology and the other one from social epistemology. In particular, conceiving of knowledge as a cognitive phenomenon, mainstream epistemologists focus on the individual as the proper epistemic subject. Yet, clearly, knowledge-acquisition many times appears to be a social process and, sometimes, to such an extent—as in the case of scientific knowledge—that it has been argued there might be knowledge that is not possessed by any individual alone. In order to make sense of such contradictory claims, I combine virtue reliabilism in mainstream epistemology with two hypotheses from externalist philosophy of mind, viz., the extended and distributed cognition hypotheses. Reading virtue reliabilism along the lines suggested by the hypothesis of extended cognition allows for a weak anti-individualistic understanding of knowledge, which has already been suggested on the basis of considerations about testimonial knowledge: knowledge, many times, has a dual nature; it is both social and individual. Provided, however, the possibility of distributed cognition and group agency, we can go even further by making a case for a robust version of antiindividualism in mainstream epistemology. This is because knowledge may not always be the product of any individual’s cognitive ability and, thereby, not creditable to any individual alone. Knowledge, instead, might be the product of an epistemic group agent’s collective cognitive ability and, thus, attributable only to the group as a whole. Still, however, being able—on the basis of the hypothesis of distributed cognition—to recognize a group as a cognitive subject in itself allows for proponents of virtue reliabilism to legitimately apply their individualistic theory of knowledge to such extreme cases as well. Put another way, mainstream individualistic epistemologists now have the means to make sense of the claim that p is known by S, even though it is not known by any individual alone.

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S. Orestis Palermos
Cardiff University

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