Tollefsen (2004)

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Tollefsen, Deborah. (2004) Collective Epistemic Agency. Southwest Philosophy Review 20 (1), 2-12.

Title Collective Epistemic Agency
Resource Type journal article
Author(s) Deborah Tollefsen
Year 2004
Journal Southwest Philosophy Review
Volume 20
Number 1
Pages 2-12


Who Knows? According to contemporary analytic epistemology only individuals do. This individualistic bias is present in standard analyses of knowledge. The “S” of “S knows that p” is always an individual cognizer. The idea that collectives could be genuine knowers has received little, if any, serious consideration.1 This form of epistemic individualism, call it epistemic agent individualism, seems to be motivated by the view that epistemology is about things that go on inside the head. As one prominent analytic epistemologist puts it, “Knowers are individuals, and knowledge is generated by mental processes and lodged in the mind-brain” (Goldman, 1987). In this paper I challenge epistemic agent individualism by arguing that certain groups can be epistemic agents. In section I, I develop an account of epistemic agency based on the work of Tyler Burge. In section II, I extend this account of epistemic agency to groups. In section III, I consider whether my thesis supports the view, put forth by some feminist epistemologists, that social groups or communities are the primary epistemic agents.