Social Epistemology (forthcoming)

Alfred Archer
Tilburg University
Mark Alfano
Macquarie University
Matthew Dennis
Delft University of Technology
The testimonies of celebrities affect the lives of their many followers who pay attention to what they say. This gives celebrities a high degree of epistemic power, which has come under close scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper investigates the duties that arise from this power. We argue that celebrities have a negative duty of testimonial justice not to undermine trust in authoritative sources by spreading misinformation or directing attention to untrustworthy sources. Moreover, celebrities have a general imperfect duty to try to correct for an unjust distribution of attention by redirecting it to those who deserve it. During a pandemic this may become a perfect one, due to the harm that could be prevented if people follow the advice of experts. Relatedly, we argue that celebrities have an imperfect duty to promote behavior that will reduce the spread of a pandemic. We outline three ways they might do so: they might take on the position of a role model, they may act as a salience magnet or they can direct people’s attention towards others who have taken on these roles.
Keywords celebrity  epistemic power  attention  trust  pandemic  COVID-19  epistemic justice
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