Dissertation, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences (2020)

Authors
Michel Croce
Università degli Studi di Genova
Abstract
Epistemic inequality is something we face in our everyday experience whenever we acknowledge our epistemic inferiority towards some and our epistemic superiority towards others. The negative side of this epistemic phenomenon has received due attention in the context of the debate on epistemic injustice: whenever an epistemic subject deflates the credibility of another or fails to recognize their authority qua knowers, unjust epistemic inequality is easily produced. However, this kind of inequality has an important positive side, as it can amount to a fundamental opportunity for the subject to achieve epistemic goods—such as knowledge, understanding, and intellectual virtues—from those who are epistemically superior to them. This thesis inquires into the key features of the interaction between non-peer agents to provide a compelling account of epistemic inequality as a positive phenomenon, that is, as an inescapable and reliable source of epistemic goods. To achieve this overarching aim, the proposed analysis shall address three main questions, one conceptual, one normative, and one practical. The conceptual question asks what it takes for an epistemic agent to be epistemically superior to someone else. The normative question investigates the rational boundaries of the interaction between non-peer agents. From the standpoint of the epistemically superior agent, I examine the permissibility of epistemic paternalism, namely whether it can be legitimate for one to interfere with another’s agency for the epistemic benefit of the subject interfered with without consulting them on the issue. From the standpoint of the epistemically inferior agent, I examine which attitudes it is rational to have towards individuals epistemically superior to us. The practical question is about the implications of this analysis for a paradigmatic instance of interaction between non-peer subjects, such as the educational relationship between teachers and students. As a response to the conceptual question, I shall offer a pluralistic virtue-based framework that allows individuating various ways in which an individual or a collective agent—such as groups, committees, and research teams—can be epistemically superior to another. In particular, I shall distinguish between experts, authorities of belief, and authorities of understanding. As a response to the normative question, I argue that epistemic paternalism is permissible only insofar as the interferers are epistemically better positioned than the subjects interfered with, and I outline an account of what I call a “virtuous paternalist interferer”. Furthermore, I argue that there are cases in which it is rational for an epistemically inferior subject to set aside whatever belief they might have and defer to the epistemically superior interlocutor—thereby endorsing a limited version of the so-called preemptionist view of epistemic authority. Finally, as a response to the practical question, I shall propose an exemplar-based account of education, explain how it can be employed to educate the young to intellectual virtues, and defend the view from several objections raised against virtue-based approaches to education.
Keywords expert  epistemic authority  epistemic paternalism  exemplarism
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