Coverage-Reliability, Epistemic Dependence, and the Problem of Rumor-Based Belief
Rumors, for better or worse, are an important element of public discourse. The present paper focuses on rumors as an epistemic phenomenon rather than as a social or political problem. In particular, it investigates the relation between the mode of transmission and the reliability, if any, of rumors as a source of knowledge. It does so by comparing rumor with two forms of epistemic dependence that have recently received attention in the philosophical literature: our dependence on the testimony of others, and our dependence on what has been called the ‘coverage-reliability’ of our social environment (Goldberg 2010). According to the latter, an environment is ‘coverage-reliable’ if, across a wide range of beliefs and given certain conditions, it supports the following conditional: If ~p were true I would have heard about it by now. However, in information-deprived social environments with little coverage-reliability, rumors may transmit information that could not otherwise be had. This suggests that a trade-off exists between levels of trust in the coverage-reliability of official sources and (warranted) trust in rumor as a source of information.
KeywordsSocial epistemology Rumor Rumour Coverage Epistemic dependence
Early versions of this paper were presented at a meeting of the Epistemology Research Group, University of Edinburgh, and at the 2nd Copenhagen-Lund Workshop in Social Epistemology, University of Lund, in 2011. A revised version was given at the “Interdisciplinary Workshop on Influence and Persuasion in the Formation and Sustainment of Social-Fringe Groups”, held in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia), in 2012. I am grateful to the audiences at all three occasions for stimulating discussions, and to the United States Air Force for funding my invitation to the Kuching workshop.
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