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Research & Initiatives

A brief overview of the project's aims

Traditional theorizing in philosophy and cognitive science about our mental lives has focused on properties of innate, biological cognition. Mainstream epistemology (the philosophical theory of knowledge) has largely inherited this traditional brainbound approach to cognition. This - as the latest evidence from cognitive science and social psychology shows - is increasingly out of step with the way we nowadays often perform cognitive tasks previously executed entirely in the head - viz, by offloading and outsourcing tasks to do with storage, planning and computation to our gadgets, including online and in the cloud. This allows us to access information much more expediently and effortlessly than ever before, but at the cost of a cluster of increased epistemic risks, including online misinformation, 'fake news', polarization, echo chambers, and information overload.

 

A deeper understanding of how to better seek information and conduct inquiries in a digital world requires an epistemological framework free from the constraints of 'bioprejudice', and with the capacity to explain how we can be efficient and responsible digitally scaffolded thinkers. Against this background, three core research questions guide our project. 

Q1: How should our epistemological theorising respond to the influx of cognitive offloading, and associated risks of misinformation online?

Q2: Are there such things as 'digital' epistemic virtues and vices, and if so, how are these related to more traditional intellectual virtues? 

Q3: What is needed to convert digitally stored information into digital knowledge, and how might we best communicate, and educate for, such knowledge?


Getting clear answers to these questions would constitute a much-needed breakthrough in contemporary epistemology. The core hypothesis to be tested is that insights from virtue epistemology in conjunction with recent philosophy of mind and cognitive science can transform our understanding of technologically scaffolded inquiry, and in a way that will make traction on Q1-Q3, which are all philosophically important and socially timely questions. 

The project will accordingly offer:


1. an epistemology of the internet; (in connection with Q1)
2. an explication of digital epistemic virtues; (in connection with Q2)
3. an account of digital knowledge and its value (in connection with Q3)


The project team, led by J Adam Carter (PI) and Jesper Kallestrup (Co-I), along with two postdocs, will deliver the above. Key outputs will include (i) a co-authored monograph by Carter and Kallestrup, (ii) journal articles aimed at top-flight venues during each of the three project phases, (iii) yearly international conferences and workshops, and work-in-progress feedback on all research prior to publication, (iv) an impact workshop with educationalists and local and UK policy makers related to combatting online misinformation and educating for digitally oriented epistemic virtues, (v) a regular podcast (disseminated with public philosophy articles on the project website), and (vi) a mini-MOOC Online Virtue which will disseminate the project's key findings to a wide audience of non-specialists. A wider objective of the project is to establish Scotland as a world-leading hub for digital epistemology.