Deference, testimony and diversity – University of Copenhagen

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Deference, testimony and diversity

The overall theme of this research priority area concerns the ways that production of knowledge and justified belief is generated through social collaboration. More specifically, we are interested in the epistemological issues that arise when people engaged in such collaboration disagree or in other ways are marked by epistemic diversity.

About the research priority area

In the research priority area, we want to focus on three more specific but highly interrelated topics:

Epistemic deference: Knowledge is typically attained in collaboration with others. Social epistemology is concerned with understanding what social contexts are more conducive than others to people coming to know things. One particularly interesting issue here is the interplay between social contexts and the epistemic character traits of people. For example, we often defer to others in matters epistemic. In so far as we defer only to those worthy of our trust—e.g., those that speak truly—we may speak of deference as an epistemic virtue. This raises a number of interesting questions. For example, what can social psychology tell us about what social contexts foster deference to social institutions? How can we promote the epistemic virtue of deference, i.e., promote deference where deference is deserved? And what role does epistemic justice—i.e., the eradication of structural inequalities contributing to some people’s experiences being systematically discounted—play in promoting deference?

Testimony: Knowledge by testimony has been increasingly debated over the last decade. This is no wonder since testimonial knowledge is pivotal to social cognition. Much of the discussion has concerned the underlying structure of testimonial knowledge. Such foundational questions are, in turn, important to shed light on more application-oriented issues. For example, the proper role of experts and expert-testimony has figured prominently both in the philosophical literature as well as in the public arena. Likewise, various kinds of social cognition, such as Wikipedia and other forms of crowd-sourcing raises questions concerning the role of testimony in cognitive collaboration.

Epistemic diversity: Recent years have seen a lot of discussions concerning epistemic disagreement about factual matters. In contrast, epistemic diversity in terms of the epistemic norms and values that an individual or group may be committed to has not received the same attention. This is unfortunate in part because such epistemic diversity is often the underlying source of factual epistemic disagreement. Moreover, normative epistemic diversity raises a number of questions in its own right. For example, some theorists (e.g., feminist standpoint theorists) regard epistemic diversity as an epistemic good as well as a moral good. In contrast, there may be reason to think that epistemic diversity can hamper certain forms of social cognition. For example, certain forms of testimonial knowledge may be hampered by epistemic diversity concerning the norms of assertion. Likewise, communal belief-revision may not be possible given radical epistemic diversity.


The main activities in the workshops are smaller focused workshops, typically with a couple of international guests. We had one such workshop with Jessica Brown and Katherine Hawley, both from St. Andrew's, in November 2012. Another workshop will take place in March 2013, and will feature Miranda Fricker and Kristoffer Ahlström-Vij.


Klemens Kappel,