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Collective scientific knowledge without a collective subject

Uygun Tunc, Duygu (2021) Collective scientific knowledge without a collective subject. [Preprint]

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Large research collaborations constitute an increasingly prevalent form of social organization of research activity in many scientific fields. In the last decades, the concept of distributed cognition has provided a suitable basis for thinking about collective knowledge in the philosophy of science. Karin Knorr-Cetina’s and Ronald Giere’s analyses of high energy physics experiments are the most prominent examples. Although they both conceive the processes of knowledge production in these experiments in terms of distributed cognition, their accounts regarding the epistemic subject of knowledge thus produced are quite different. While Knorr-Cetina argues for an irreducibly collective subject, Giere argues for eliminating the epistemic subject and opting for using the passive voice in describing collectively produced knowledge. Neither of these views are easy to assimilate within an epistemological account, since epistemology traditionally operates within an individualist framework. They both entail that we should deny knowledge to individuals when the processes of knowledge production are distributed. I will argue that epistemology should be extended in a way that can accommodate collectively produced knowledge, but that we would have a serious problem if we deny scientific knowledge to individuals. If the members of a large collaboration cannot be said to know, we have to accept the absurd conclusion that either no one or only a supra-individual entity learns from the most successful research collaborations we have. I will argue instead for conceiving research collaborations in terms of a cognitive system that produces (not possesses) knowledge, which can eventually be possessed (though not produced) by constituent individuals when certain conditions are met. Firstly, the distributed research process should be reliable in producing scientific evidence and secondly, there should be a reliable distributed process of criticism for scrutinizing the reliability of the scientific evidence that is collectively produced. I will analyze both conditions in terms of distributed first-order and second-order justification, where I put forward a reliabilist account of justification that is compatible with epistemic dependence. I will conclude that the notion of justified epistemic dependence enables us to attribute knowledge to individuals when knowledge production is irreducibly social.

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Item Type: Preprint
Uygun Tunc, Duyguduygu.uygun@outlook.com0000-0003-0148-0416
Keywords: distributed cognition; collective knowledge; reliabilism; epistemic dependence; research collaborations
Subjects: General Issues > Social Epistemology of Science
Depositing User: Duygu Uygun Tunc
Date Deposited: 17 Jun 2021 19:15
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2021 19:15
Item ID: 19187
Subjects: General Issues > Social Epistemology of Science
Date: 16 June 2021

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