Performing Knowing: A Reply to Collins, Richard W. Moodey

SERRC —  June 20, 2016 — 8 Comments

Author Information: Richard W. Moodey, Gannon University, moodey001@gannon.edu

Moodey, Richard W. “Performing Knowing: A Reply to Collins.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 6 (2016): 42-43.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-33t

Please refer to:

performing_knowing

Image credit: Ian Sane, via flickr

Harry Collins and I agree on many things. We both value clarity of expression, as well as informed agreement and disagreement. We agree about the intimate relation between action and intention. We agree that it is a mistake to assign an intention to a collectivity. This means, I believe, that it is a mistake to attribute actions to groups or other collectivities. “Actions, as we use the term, are tied up with intentions, and intentions are internal states” (Collins and Kusch 1998, 18). 

What we seem to disagree about is the truth of the following assertion: “the primary subject of knowledge is the group, not the individual” (Collins and Kusch 1998, 5; footnote 3). Collins affirms it. I deny it. Our disagreement seems to turn on what each of us means by “subject of knowledge”. I mean “the performer of an act of knowing”. I now understand Collins to equate the subject of knowledge with the locus of knowledge.

My disagreement with Collins turns on my denial that “knowledge” is something that can be “possessed,” the same sense that money or physical objects can be possessed. If “knowledge” is imagined to be something that can be possessed, then it follows that it can be possessed by either a collectivity or a person. I do not, however, imagine knowledge to be something that can be possessed. I imagine “knowledge” as inseparable from acts of knowing, as something performed, rather than possessed.

So I can agree with Collins that the locus of knowledge is always a collectivity, sometimes as small as a collectivity of two persons. What I mean by this is that persons perform acts of knowing in social settings. Even if the person who performs the act is physically separate from other persons, others are virtually present. If, however, “knowledge” is imagined as something that is performed, rather than possessed, then it follows that a person can perform an act of knowing, but that a group or other collectivity cannot.

This is an issue that divides social epistemology. Calvert-Minor (2011) contends that collectivities are epistemic agents, and Grasswick (2004, 2011) argues that “individuals-in-community”, rather than the communities-as-communities, are the agents of knowing. My position is very similar, if not identical, to that of Grasswick. I had previously thought that Collins’s position was very close to that of Calvert-Minor, but after considering his denial that collectivities can perform actions, including acts of knowing, I am much less sure of this than I was previously.

References

Calvert-Minor, Chris. “‘Epistemological Communities’ and the Problem of Epistemic Agency.” Social Epistemology 25, no. 4 (2011): 341–60.

Collins, Harry. “Collectivities and Tacit Knowledge.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 4 (2016): 26-28.

Collins, Harry and Martin Kusch. The Shape of Actions: What Humans and Machines Can Do. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 1998.

Grasswick, Heidi E. “Individuals-in-Communities: The Search for a Feminist Model of Epistemic Subjects.” Hypatia 19, no 3 (2004): 85–120.

Grasswick, Heidi E. “Questioning the Role of Epistemic Agency: A Response to Calvert-Minor.” Social Epistemology 25, no 4 (2011): 361-369.

8 responses to Performing Knowing: A Reply to Collins, Richard W. Moodey

  1. 
    Mahdi Movahed-Abtahi June 23, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I agree with Moodey as he imagines “knowledge” as inseparable from acts of knowing, as something performed, rather than possessed. But how we represent or project our intention? I agree with Collins: “Actions, as we use the term, are tied up with intentions, and intentions are internal states”. But please answer my question: before our action, our intention belongs to what any thing in the real world?

    • 

      It seems to me that we are in agreement about using “action” to point to behavior that is tied up with intentions. I have to answer your question by switching from first person plural (“our action”) to first person singular (“my action”). My internal state, prior to making coffee this morning, belonged to me, and I regard “me” as a thing in the real world. More specifically, it belonged to those aspects of me that I call my brain and nervous system, or sometimes just my “mind.” I don’t mean to say that my mind is “nothing more” than my brain and nervous system, but I do mean to say that my intention to make coffee, before I started to make it, was in the strengthened synaptic connections in my brain and in the neural connections between my brain and my hands, arms, and fingers.

      I hope I have understood your question correctly, and have been reasonably clear about how I go about trying to answer it.

      Dick Moodey

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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