University of Tasmania
whole_TownleyCynthia2000_thesis.pdf (10.57 MB)

Knowledge, community and ignorance

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posted on 2023-05-27, 14:10 authored by Townley, Cynthia
Most epistemologists have assumed that the elimination of ignorance is an uncontroversial epistemic goal: the ideal and virtuous knower is maximally informed. This assumption is automatically extended to the assertion that ideal knowers will also be maximally informative. I challenge both these assumptions and their implication that it is always desirable to eliminate or minimise ignorance. I argue that ignorance, far from being an epistemic flaw in need of remedy, is demanded by important epistemic virtues, especially when the importance of epistemic community is recognised. An initial account of the importance of ignorance is provided through a discussion of virtue epistemology. Standard virtue-based accounts focus on the acquisition of information through empirical evidence: scrupulousness, rigour, and objectivity are commonly identified as epistemic virtues. I argue that this list is incomplete, and must be supplemented with empathy, cooperation, discretion and humility. I show that while epistemology must attend to the desirable characteristics of knowers, epistemic virtues cannot all be understood as knowledge maximising. Furthermore, a properly communitarian epistemology must attend to relationships between knowers characterised by trust, respect and credibility. I will show that these features of epistemic interactions require the tolerance and even promotion of ignorance. I then show the ideals of complete knowledge, epistemic uniformity and consensus to be flawed and inadequate. I argue that the ideal of knowers as information maximisers should be replaced with a conception of knowers as cooperative \second persons.\" The communitarian virtue epistemology defended in the first three chapters forms the basis for the discussions of trust empathy and authority that follow. I develop an account of trust as a source of knowledge that cannot be reduced to treating persons and their claims as evidence. Empathic knowledge requires discretion and respect from virtuous knowers rather than a desire to accumulate all the facts. I argue further that the epistemic responsibilities of expert knowers are not limited to the provision or acquisition of accurate information. I show that an approach to knowledge that incorporates ignorance and starts from the ways that virtuous knowers engage with one another is a promising way to analyse practical epistemic concerns such as indigenous intellectual property rights. The thesis as a whole demonstrates that taking account of ignorance in epistemological theory enhances an adequate analysis of a range of epistemic practices that cannot be reduced to knowledge maximising. Ignorance is both theoretically indispensable to epistemological analyses and practically invaluable for a community of knowers."


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Copyright 2000 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2000. Includes bibliographical references

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