Introduction, Social Epistemology 30(1), James Collier

Editor’s Note:

    Taylor & Francis, the publisher of Social Epistemology, has kindly agreed to make the full text of the introduction to each issue freely available.

The idea of “capacity”—personal, communal, local and structural—might best convey the common concern that emerges from the contributions to this issue of Social Epistemology. Our contributors allude to the capacity for valuing knowledge; the capacity for communities to know and to act on their knowledge; the capacity to evaluate oral testimony; the capacity to integrate cognitive structures with social action; and the capacity to delineate the economic structures that surround us. … please read the full text introduction …


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6 replies

  1. This is most excellent – so appreciate this news

  2. James Collier writes: “Ian Werkheiser develops a view regarding epistemic
    capacity—the ability of a community to (among other things) gain, disseminate
    and maintain knowledge to inform a particular action. Werkheiser offers numerous
    examples of how a community can, and should, meaningfully participate, and
    give consent on, risk-related issues. Advancing the argument that fair public participation
    requires increased epistemic capacity, Werkheiser concludes that we need
    greater efforts to realize a more complex vision of both knowledge and society.”

    This illustrates the problem with much of the talk about “knowledge.” Using the noun form reifies the verb “to know.” It is the result of such reification that “knowledge” can then be spoken of as a “possession.” Then it is spoken of as something that community or other form of collectivity can possess. But, of course, we have all rejected the notion of “group mind,” so to be consistent we should also reject the notion that a collectivity has the ability (“capacity”) to know.

    • Dick, thank you for your insightful comment. I gather I will offer an unsatisfactory reply by saying, (but will anyway), I did not privilege “mind” in—what I understand you as doing—assigning a background condition to my stylistic choices. And while one can speak of knowledge as a noun (and, so, a thing and a possession, I do not assume the mind is where such a possession might be located. The issue, then, of “group mind”—and the consequent rejection of collective knowledge—does not seem relevant.

  3. Hi JIm, Your reply will be, I believe, very satisfactory to all those who want to continue speaking and writing as if knowledge is something that can be “possessed,” either by an individual or a collectivity. I have learned not to expect to be able to persuade very many people that collectivities can share the skin-out aspects of culture, but not the meanings people attribute to cultural symbols and artifacts. I reject collective knowledge because I deny that people share meanings. I deny that people share meanings because I contend that the conduit metaphor of communication presents a false image of the process of verbal communication. It might be that this could lead to my virtual “excommunication” from the fold of social epistemology. That’s a bit of hyperbole — I don’t really think anyone wants to keep me from writing my “heretical” comments.

    • Might heresy be collectively attributed?! If so, I am also a heretic—but of a somewhat different sort. I certainly understand objections to the idea of possessing knowledge—and the consequences that follow from a political economy of knowledge (see, for example, contemporary university administrators). But I tend not to see knowledge as a finished product that individuals or collectives might fully possess; rather, (temporarily granting the reification) something in the process of becoming to which groups might contribute. Perhaps I see knowledge more as an aspiration (though not in a Platonic sense).

  4. Lyudmila Markova

    The notion “knowledge” may be interpreted in different ways, inclkuding as a “finished product”, separated from its background, from the process of its production and its author. Textbooks contain knowledge mostly in this form, and students receive it as a sum of scientific studies results. The history, conditions of the birth of scientific idea are usually in the preface and references and in the books on the history of science. This type of scientific knowledge remains to be useful, as students need to have a sum of professional knowledge, which they can use in their future work without a doubt they are true. However this type of assimilation of knowledge does not develop thinking ability. Present situation in society, in science, and philosophy needs another attitude to the knowledge. James Collier is right, when he calls among important, from his point of view, ideas, developed by the authors of journal, the following: “the capacity for communities to know and to act on their knowledge; to integrate cognitive structures with social action”. There is his own opinion: “I tend not to see knowledge as a finished product that individual or collectives might fully possess; rather (temporarily granting the reification) something in the process of becoming to which groups might contribute”.
    This understanding of knowledge, to my mind, is very important, because it demonstrates a serious turn in scientific thinking. Science studies are aimed not to the nature, but to the human. Sociality is not external social factors, which influence science from outside. Social features are inside of knowledge, in the process of its becoming. Logical system of classical thinking is changing, and many concepts (truth and objectivity in the first place) are problematic and require justification.

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