Epistemic Community Is a Subtype of Epistemic Agent (Barseghyan-2018) Reason1

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The notion of epistemic agency implies that an agent takes epistemic stances intentionally. That is:

  • the agent has a semantic understanding of the propositions that constitute the epistemic element in question, and of its alternatives, and
  • the agent is capable of choosing among them with reason, and with the goal of acquiring knowledge.

Communities can meet these conditions. An epistemic community, by definition, has a collective intentionality to know the world and can thus be said to pursue the goal of acquiring knowledge.1 In order for a community to be a communal epistemic agent, it must be the case that its epistemic stances belong to the community as a whole, rather than simply to its constituent members. To understand how this can be, we must consider some general properties of systems with multiple interacting parts. Such systems, if their parts are appropriately organized in relation to one another, often exhibit emergent properties.23456pp. 274-312 William Wimsatt defined the emergent properties of a system as those that depend on the way its parts are organized.56pp. 274-312 Aggregate systems as those in which the parts do not bear an organized relationship to one another. The parts all play similar causal roles and can be interchanged or rearranged without consequence. The behaviour of the whole is just an additive, statistical consequence of that of its parts and no emergent properties are present. A jumbled pile of electronic parts is an example of an aggregate system. Its properties, like its mass and its volume, are just the sum of the masses and volumes of all its parts. A composed system possesses new emergent properties due to the way in which its parts are organized in relation to one another. A radio assembled by arranging electronic parts in the proper relation to one another is an example of a composed system. The ability to be a radio is an emergent property because none of the radio's parts exhibit it by itself. The parts are organized so that each one plays its own distinctive, specialized role in producing the emergent property.

A number of authors have argued that epistemic communities are organized so as to give rise to emergent properties.789101112 Wimsatt's ideas have been specifically applied to epistemic communities by Theiner and O'Connor. 12 An epistemic community is an organized system of individual epistemic agents, each of which makes its own distinctive contribution to the epistemic stances taken by the communal agent as a whole. These roles are determined by institutional and other forms of organization of the communal agent, and involve varied and complementary areas of specialized knowledge. Collective decision-making processes and institutional frameworks interact with and influence the views of individual community members. These allow a community to take epistemic stances towards epistemic elements that are distinct from those its individual members might take if left to their own devices. In an analysis of legal decision-making processes, Tollefsen 13 has shown that there are a variety of circumstances under which a community's epistemic stances are not the simple aggregate of its individual member's stances. Longino 141516 maintains that, when communities have normatively appropriate structures, critical interactions among community members holding different points of view mitigate the influence of individual subjective preferences and allow communities to achieve a level of objectivity in their taking of epistemic stances that are not generally possible for individual agents. Barseghyan 17pp. 43-52 has argued that the methods used by individual prominent scientists often, in fact, do not coincide with those of their community and that a community's acceptance of a theory is a function of the methods employed by that community rather than individual idiosyncrasies. Thus, it appears that most epistemic communities fit the requirements for communal epistemic agents.This reason for Epistemic Community Is a Subtype of Epistemic Agent (Barseghyan-2018) was formulated by Paul Patton in 2019.18


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