Seminar: Erik J. Olsson (Lund)

Department: Philosophy

Date and Time: October 5, 2017 - 11:30 AM

Event Location: HIB 55

Event Details

Title: "The Epistemology of Social Networks" 

Many of us are participating in social networks, whether online or offline. Indeed, many use their social networks as their main source of information. Can we say anything interesting about how the fact that we communicate in networks influences our epistemic positions? Are we thereby better off if our main goal is to arrive at true beliefs about the world on interesting matters?

In his seminal 1999 book, Alvin Goldman outlines a theory of veritistic (i.e. truth-centred) social epistemology which promises to shed light on these and related issues by providing a way of assessing the truth-conduciveness or “veritistic value” of a social process. Interaction in social networks would be a case in point. However, as Goldman himself is acutely aware, his social epistemology faces numerous challenges. Some are of a principled kind, others of a more practical nature. Goldman is surprisingly unassertive in his attempts to deal with the objections.

In this talk, I outline and defend an epistemology of social networks based on Goldman’s work. I address three main challenges for that account: the truth objection, the computational objection and the scoring rule objection. The first objection basically states that it is impossible to determine the truth-conduciveness of a social practice because we don’t know what the truth is. The second objection states that, even if we knew what the truth is, it would be practically impossible to actually compute the truth-conduciveness of a social practice. These objections are raised, but in my view inconclusively dealt with, by Goldman himself. The third, less fundamental, objection states that Goldman’s simple way of measuring truth-conduciveness (veritistic value) is flawed (Kopec, 2012). I argue that all these challenges can be overcome.

The talk develops and extends ideas that were first published in Olsson (2011).

Goldman, A. I. (1999). Knowledge in a social world, Oxford University Press.
M. Kopec (2012). We ought to agree: a consequence of repairing Goldman's group scoring rule. Episteme, 9(2): 101-114.
E. J. Olsson (2011). A simulation approach to veritistic social epistemology. Episteme, 8(2):127-143.