PHIL 140.001 – Knowledge and Society
Instructor: Genae Matthews. This course meets via remote, mostly asynchronous (RM) instruction.
In an informational landscape rife with conspiracy theories, fake news, echo chambers, misinformation, and more, figuring out what to believe is no easy matter. It is difficult to know who to trust, because these phenomena make it hard to figure out which of our sources are reliable. Moreover, even if we manage to avoid these quagmires, our media consumption practices seem to leave us polarized. We are primarily exposed to media that aligns with our values and biases, making it seem as if those who hold different values and biases live on another planet and rendering communication with them laborious if not downright impossible.
Epistemologists – that is, philosophers interested in questions about knowledge, rational belief, and justification – have become increasingly concerned about these issues. In other words, epistemology as of late has taken an “applied” turn, recognizing the social issues above as epistemological at their core and focusing its attention on how to be an ideal knower in our deeply non-ideal epistemic environment. This course is an introduction to applied epistemology and will survey recent epistemological work not only on all of the phenomena mentioned above, but also on disagreement, distrust in science, motivated reasoning (and motivated ignorance), deference to experts, free speech and the epistemology of the law.
Questions that we’ll address include (but are not limited to): What makes something a conspiracy theory and can it ever be rational to believe in one? How do we know if we are in an echo chamber? Is being in an echo chamber necessarily bad (from an epistemic point of view)? What should we do if we find out that many our beliefs are influenced by factors that have nothing to do with their truth (e.g., our upbringings, genders, races, and so on)? How do we identify who the ‘experts’ are about particular issues and should we always defer to them about those issues? Does our criminal legal system contain pernicious epistemic practices? If so, what are they?
This course is designed to be accessible to students who have never taken a philosophy class before and will be taught as such. However, students with prior experience in philosophy are of course welcome.