Epistemic Dependence, Cognitive Irrationality, and Epistemic Conflicts of Interests: Why There Is a Need for Social Epistemic Norms (pages 287-313)


ABSTRACT: When an agent A depends on an agent B to promote one of A’s epistemic goals, this will often involve B’s forming and sharing of true beliefs. However, as is well documented in research on cognitive irrationality, agents are disposed to form and share false-but-useful beliefs in a lot of circumstances. The dependence relation is thus at risk of becoming negative: A might adopt false beliefs from B and thus be unable to promote their epistemic goal. I propose that we can employ the notion of an epistemic conflict of interest [ECOI] to capture the kinds of problems that epistemically interdependent agents face. Much like familiar cases of conflict of interests—e.g., related to government officials—in ECOI an agent is subject to a normatively primary interest—roughly to form and share true beliefs—that stands in conflict with normatively secondary interests. I focus on secondary interests documented in the aforementioned research on cognitive irrationality. The resulting framework addresses an explanatory gap in the literature on social epistemic norms by making explicit why there’s a need for these norms to regulate our epistemic lives. Lastly, I show how the ECOI-framework furthermore allows us to make sense of and amend norm regulation failures.

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