The Epistemic Value of Photographs

In Catharine Abell & Katerina Bantinaki (eds.), Philosophical Perspectives on Depiction. Oxford University Press (2010)
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Abstract
There is a variety of epistemic roles to which photographs are better suited than non-photographic pictures. Photographs provide more compelling evidence of the existence of the scenes they depict than non-photographic pictures. They are also better sources of information about features of those scenes that are easily overlooked. This chapter examines several different attempts to explain the distinctive epistemic value of photographs, and argues that none is adequate. It then proposes an alternative explanation of their epistemic value. The chapter argues that photographs play the epistemic roles they do because they are typically rich sources of depictively encoded information about the scenes they depict, and reliable depictive representations of those scenes. It then explains why photographs differ from non-photographic pictures in both respects.
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