Jeroen de Ridder: Two (or More) Senses of Group Knowledge

Dr Jeroen de Ridder (VU University Amsterdam) speaks at the Extended Knowledge conference, University of Edinburgh, 22-24 April 2015.

Abstract: Talk about group knowledge is ubiquitous. We ascribe knowledge to various kinds of collectives: committees, boards, organizations, research teams, scientists, countries, and even humankind. Various philosophers have argued that at least some of these group knowledge ascriptions must be construed realistically — as referring to genuinely collective epistemic states — and have proposed an analysis of group knowledge that can account for such group knowledge ascriptions. Such accounts, however, have been plagued by systematic objections and counterexamples. In this paper, I propose a different strategy and argue for pluralism about group knowledge: group knowledge is not one unique thing, but there are a number of collective epistemic states that all deserve the label of group knowledge. Extant accounts home in on some of these states, mistakenly to the exclusion of others. Group knowledge, then, has a number of senses. While this may seem like a theoretical cop-out, I will also argue that there are in fact good systematic reasons to expect that there is more than one sense of group knowledge. The epistemologist’s paradigm case of knowledge is individual knowledge. Because, trivially, groups aren’t individuals, group knowledge is going to differ in some respects from individual knowledge and since there are different respects in which group knowledge can differ from individual knowledge, we should expect there to be different senses of group knowledge.