Antisocial Modelling

In Alfano Mark, Jeroen De Ridder & Colin Klein (eds.), Social Virtue Epistemology (forthcoming)
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This essay replies to Michael Morreau and Erik J. Olsson’s ‘Learning from Ranters: The Effect of Information Resistance on the Epistemic Quality of Social Network Deliberation’. Morreau and Olsson use simulations to suggest that false ranters—agents who do not update their beliefs and only ever assert false claims—do not diminish the epistemic value of deliberation for other agents and can even be epistemically valuable. They argue conclude that “Our study suggests that including [false] ranters has little or no negative effect on the epistemic value of social deliberation. Including them can even be epistemically beneficial. I present concerns about their model and I enumerate some epistemic values that their discussion omits. I first raise two interrelated worries: (i.) The model is too simple; real-life irresponsible assertors do not speak uniformly falsely, for example. And tracking testifiers’ reliability demands cognitive resources. (ii.) In reality, we do not treat a person’s assertions that p as evidence that not p, especially not for all their assertions. I argue that these simplifications threat Morreau and Olsson conclusion. I then enumerate epistemic values and disvalues that Morreau and Olsson do not discuss, but which bear on the value of false assertions and false ranters in their simulation and in real life. Candidate disvalues include: False beliefs of ranters; cognitive costs of discerning and recalling testifiers’ reliability; distrust; epistemic polarisatin; a prevalence of false assertion can impugn all testimony, including that of reliable testifiers. And candidate values include: a prevalence of true beliefs and assertions; attention being directed towards the right things; well-functioning trust relationships; believing people’s assertions; healthy discussion; epistemic respect; learning together.

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Georgi Gardiner
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


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