Testimony, Advocacy, Ignorance: Thinking Ecologically about Social Knowledge
Epistemologists in the 21st century come from a long tradition in which perception, memory, and testimony were viewed as the sources of knowledge. Of these, perception and memory, however enhanced, abstracted, or elaborated, counted as the most reliable sources, with testimony ranking as a distant, and usually compromised, third. In this chapter's view, social epistemology reverses this ranking, granting a central place to testimony in the production of knowledge, and interrogating assumptions about the replicability and homogeneity of perception and memory. It thus generates a range of issues that had seemed to be hors de question for traditional epistemologists. Drawing on the conceptual framework developed in Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location, this chapter proposes that epistemic inquiry socially reconfigured is more fully naturalized than post-Quinean naturalized epistemology has been. Social epistemology focuses on epistemic practices communally engaged by identifiable knowers in the world (thus not principally in the laboratory); who are situated not just socially, but ethically, politically, demographically, geographically, and ecologically, where aspects of such “situatedness” often count among the conditions that make knowledge possible. The inquiry focuses on testimony and advocacy as practices where these factors are particularly salient, and on ignorance not as a mere lack or failure of knowledge, but as a modality of not-knowing, or knowing inadequately, unjustly, which is itself situationally fostered, inhibited, or eradicated.
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