Social Knowledge and Supervenience Revisited
Bird’s (Philos Perspect 24:23–56, 2010; in: Lackey (ed) Essays in Collective Epistemology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014) account of social knowledge (SK) denies that scientific social knowledge supervenes solely on the mental states of individuals. Lackey (Philos Issues 24:282–298, 2014) objects that SK cannot accommodate (1) a knowledge-action principle and (2) the role of group defeaters. I argue that Lackey’s knowledge-action principle is ambiguous. On one disambiguation, it is false; on the other, it is true but poses no threat to SK. Regarding group defeaters, I argue that there are at least two options available to the defender of SK, both taken from literature on individual defeaters and applied to group defeaters. Finally, I argue that Lackey’s description of the case of Dr. N.—as a case in which the scientific community does not know but is merely in a position to know—is mistaken. It assumes that Dr. N.’s publication is not scientific knowledge. An analogy to the individual case shows that it is plausible that the scientific community is not merely in a position to know, although its members are. This leaves intact a conception of social knowledge on which it does not supervene on the mental states of individuals.
Thanks to Carl Craver, Jon Kvanvig, Julia Staffel, and two anonymous reviewers for invaluable comments on earlier versions of this paper.
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