Extended knowledge, the recognition heuristic, and epistemic injustice

In Duncan Pritchard, Jesper Kallestrup, Orestis Palermos & Adam Carter (eds.), Extended Knowledge. Oxford University Press. pp. 239-256 (2018)
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We argue that the interaction of biased media coverage and widespread employment of the recognition heuristic can produce epistemic injustices. First, we explain the recognition heuristic as studied by Gerd Gigerenzer and colleagues, highlighting how some of its components are largely external to, and outside the control of, the cognitive agent. We then connect the recognition heuristic with recent work on the hypotheses of embedded, extended, and scaffolded cognition, arguing that the recognition heuristic is best understood as an instance of scaffolded cognition. In section three, we consider the double-edged sword of cognitive scaffolding. On the one hand, scaffolds can reduce the internal processing demands on cognitive agents while increasing their access to information. On the other hand, the use of scaffolding leaves cognitive agents increasingly vulnerable to forming false beliefs or failing to form beliefs at all about particular topics. With respect to the recognition heuristic, agents rely on third parties (such as the media) to report not just what’s true but also what’s important or valuable. This makes cognitive agents relying on these third parties vulnerable to two erroneous influences: 1) because they don’t recognize something, it isn’t important or valuable, and 2) because they do recognize something, it is important or valuable. Call the latter the Kardashian Inference and the former the Darfur Inference. In section four, we use Fricker’s (2007) concept of epistemic injustice to characterize the nature and harm of these false inferences, with special emphasis on the Darfur Inference. In section five, we use data-mining and an empirical study to show how Gigerenzer’s population estimation task is liable to produce Darfur Inferences. We conclude with some speculative remarks on more important Darfur Inferences, and how to avoid them by scaffolding better. One primary way to accomplish this it to shift the burden of embodying the virtue of epistemic justice from the hearer or consumer of media to the media themselves.

Author Profiles

Mark Alfano
Macquarie University


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