A Critical Project
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis examines what are for us two great sources or causes of error. The first arises from the influence of various cognitive biases upon our thinking, while the second emerges as a result of our wide-ranging dependence upon others for a vast amount of our beliefs about the world. Through both we can come to adopt false and harmful beliefs, a fact that naturally has both veridical and moral significance. One response is to suggest that we should increase our reliance upon experts in order to help us better acquire true beliefs and avoid false beliefs. By examining the historical, theoretical, psychological, and linguistic character of epistemic authorities and relationships, this avenue will be argued to be problematic. Scepticism in relation to epistemic authority is avoided in favour of an adoption of a critical attitude with respect to social sources of belief. The epistemology of testimony is next looked at, to see whether any lessons can be drawn from the nature of epistemic dependence to how we should epistemically approach others. Reductive versus non-reductive conceptions of the justification of testimony are explained, with the former conception being seen as naturally lending itself more to a critical treatment of social sources of belief. The question of why we should be rational at all is then examined. The positions of William K. Clifford and Karl Popper on the matter are explained, and my own views set forward. Finally, in light of the preceding groundwork, it is argued that there is a philosophical place and a social need for public education with respect to the broad epistemic situation in which we find ourselves.