, Volume 190, Issue 7, pp 1293–1316 | Cite as

When is consensus knowledge based? Distinguishing shared knowledge from mere agreement

  • Boaz MillerEmail author


Scientific consensus is widely deferred to in public debates as a social indicator of the existence of knowledge. However, it is far from clear that such deference to consensus is always justified. The existence of agreement in a community of researchers is a contingent fact, and researchers may reach a consensus for all kinds of reasons, such as fighting a common foe or sharing a common bias. Scientific consensus, by itself, does not necessarily indicate the existence of shared knowledge among the members of the consensus community. I address the question of under what conditions it is likely that a consensus is in fact knowledge based. I argue that a consensus is likely to be knowledge based when knowledge is the best explanation of the consensus, and I identify three conditions—social calibration, apparent consilience of evidence, and social diversity, for knowledge being the best explanation of a consensus.


Social epistemology Knowledge Consensus Expert testimony 



I thank Hagit Benbaji, Joseph Berkovitz, Jim Brown, Anjan Chakravartty, Steve Fuller, Yves Gingras, Sandy Goldberg, Arnon Keren, Kareem Khalifa, Laszlo Kosolosky, Yakir Levin, Isaac (Yanni) Nevo, Isaac Record, Jacob Stegenga, Eran Tal, Brad Wray, and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments and suggestions. I am grateful to the Azrieli Foundation for an award of an Azrieli Fellowship. Special thanks to Meital Pinto for her support and inspiration.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Edmond J. Safra Center for EthicsTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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