Workshop on Collective Epistemology

vrnl: Fabienne Peter, Caroline Baumann, n.n., Daniel Sirtes, Anita Konzelmannn, o: Rafal Pawel Wierzchoslawski, u: Robert Evans, Juliette Gloor, Raul Hakli, Kay Mathiesen, Miranda Fricker, Don Fallis, Marcel Weber, Mirjam Solomon, Justin Biddle, Deborah Tollefsen, o: Husain Sarkar, v: Raimo Tuomela, Hans Bernhard Schmid

University of Basel, Octobre 3-5, 2008

Missionsstrasse 21, 4058 Basel (click to see map)


While traditional epistemology and philosophy of science used to focus on individual reasoning, recent work in social epistemology has tried to establish the importance of social groups for cognition. All the proponents of social epistemology agree that the idea of science as driven by unbiased, purely epistemically oriented individual cognizers has to be rejected. However, there are very different views concerning the consequences and remedies. P. Kitcher, A. Goldman, and D. Hull argue that non-epistemic interests may be beneficial for the division of cognitive labor and, hence, conducive to the attainment of knowledge. Furthermore, Kitcher argues for a democratic representation of values in science agenda setting, as the non-epistemic interests of scientists should be on a par with society’s interests. M. Solomon proposes that even if all scientists were driven by non-epistemic concerns, the consensus of scientific communities could still be rational if it is reconstructable as being somehow based on empirical grounds. H. Longino prescribes social norms such as equality of intellectual authority for a community so it can produce objective scientific knowledge, while E. Anderson analyzes why certain democratic norms improve the epistemic power of an institution.

A more radical strand of social epistemology (sometimes called “communitarian”) makes social groups the proper subject of attributing knowledge in a normatively rich sense. This strand is essentially based on rule-following skepticism in the manner of Kripke’s Wittgenstein and replaces truth by assertability as the criterion for knowledge (D. Bloor, M. Kusch). While these are all significant departure from traditional epistemology and philosophy of science, which assumed that the social could only impact epistemic rationality negatively, all these different approaches in social or communitarian epistemology are based on a largely unanalyzed notion of the social. The constitution of social groups is taken as given, and then it is asked how this group could impact (scientific) rationality in a beneficial way, or how it can be a source of epistemic normativity (in the more radical approaches). However, not much has been done on what constitutes social groups in the first place. As the ontological make-up of groups is among the key topics of current philosophical research, we aim at exploring the question of how social epistemology might profit from a closer look at current social ontology, and vice versa. At the center of current social ontology (cf., e.g., J. Searle, forthcoming) is the question of how properties attributed to group subjects – including actions, choices, decisions, as well as apparently “group mental” states (P. Pettit) such as knowledge – relate to individual actions, and individual mental states. Under the label “Collective Intentionality”, the view has been put forth that it is by virtue of a particular kind of their intentionality that individuals form groups, and by virtue of which those groups can be attributed those properties. M. Gilbert and D. Tollefsen have introduced the label “Collective Epistemology” for this line of inquiry. It opens up new and promising perspectives for social epistemology. Instead of examining knowledge (and possibly decision and choice) as an emergent property of the group, while sticking to a traditional understanding of the intentionality of the participating individuals, we would like to explore the potential of a collective epistemology further by examining epistemic communities in terms of collective intentionality. This workshop aims to bring together leading philosophers and social scientists who have recently contributed to various projects in social and collective epistemology and the philosophy of science in order to explore the common ground as well as the differences between these new perspectives on the production and validation of knowledge and therefore promote their further articulation.


Organizing Committee:



Friday, Oct. 3: Epistemology and Group Rationality

1:45-2Welcome Adress
2-3Miriam Solomon, Temple University: "Collective Intentionality and the Social Epistemology of Medical Consensus Conference"
3-4Justin Biddle, University of Bielefeld: "Advocates or Unencumbered Selves? On the Role of Mill's Political Liberalism in Longino's Contextual Empiricism"
4-4:15Coffee Break
4:15-5:15Don Fallis, University of Arizona: "Probabilistic Proofs and the Collective Epistemic Goals of Mathematics"
5:15-6:15Husain Sarkar, Louisiana State University: "Group Rationality and a New Philosophical Problem"


Saturday, Oct. 4: Collective Intentionality in Epistemology


9:15-10:15Deborah Tollefsen, University of Memphis: "Groups as Rational Sources"
10:15-11.15Anita Konzelmann Ziv, University of Basel: "Collective Epistemic Virtues"
11:15-11:30Coffee Break
11:30-12:30Raul Hakli, University of Helsinki: "On Justification of Group Beliefs"
2-3Kay Matthiesen, University of Arizona: "Justifying Group Belief"
3-4Caroline Baumann, Cambridge University: "Gilbert on Social Norms"
4-4:15Coffee Break
4:15-5:15Raimo Tuomela, University of Helsinki: "An Account of Group Knowledge"


Sunday, Oct. 5: Experts and Socety / Epistemology, Deliberation and Democracy


9:15-10:15Robert Evans, Cardiff University: "Expertise and Deliberation: Rethinking the value of the dis-interested citizen"
10:15-11.15Miranda Fricker, Birkbeck College: "Forms of Institutional Virtue"
11:15-11:30Coffee Break
11:30-12:30Fabienne Peter, University of Warwick: "Democracy and Proceduralist Social Epistemology"
2-3:30Roundtable Discussion


Attendance is free, please register in advance with a mail to


Funded by:

Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel

(Applications for further funds are pending.)