Philosophical Knowledge as Social Knowledge: A Case Study in Social Epistemology

Dissertation, University of Minnesota (2000)

The aim of this thesis is to argue that philosophical knowledge is shaped in part by social factors, and that philosophy can be objective only if, and to the degree that, we pay the right sort of attention to these social factors. A number of authors have made such arguments regarding scientific knowledge. By focusing on philosophical knowledge, I hope to take a step toward arguing for social epistemology in general. ;I explore first a range of work in the small but growing field of social epistemologists concerned with knowledge beyond the scientific. Next, I look to social epistemology of science. Then, applying the analytical tools found in each of these subfields, I consider philosophical knowledge in particular. I argue that a social epistemology offers a more adequate approach to philosophical knowledge than does an epistemology which excludes consideration of factors beyond the individual reasoner. ;I make use of two case studies for illustration, clarification, and testing. The first case is the literature concerning ethical egoism. The second case is the literature concerning Gettier-type counterexamples and their significance for epistemology. In each case, I review a sampling of the relevant literature, then apply to it the analytic tools provided by the more general discussion preceding it. In each case, these tools reveal evidence of the influence of social factors on philosophical knowledge and its pursuit, though the nature and depth of that influence varies. ;Having argued that philosophy is a social process, I examine what reason there is to say that the results of this process should, at least sometimes, count as knowledge. Here I draw particularly from the work of Helen Longino, spelling out some criteria which a knowledge-pursuing enterprise needs to fulfill if it is to approach objectivity, and so produce knowledge
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