Facing Epistemic Authorities: Where Democratic Ideals and Critical Thinking Mislead Cognition

In Sven Bernecker, Amy Floweree & Thomas Grundmann (eds.), The Epistemology of Fake News. Oxford: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Disrespect for the truth, the rise of conspiracy thinking, and a pervasive distrust in experts are widespread features of the post-truth condition in current politics and public opinion. Among the many good explanations of these phenomena there is one that is only rarely discussed: that something is wrong with our deeply entrenched intellectual standards of (i) using our own critical thinking without any restriction and (ii) respecting the judgment of every rational agent as epistemically relevant. In this paper, I will argue that these two enlightenment principles—the Principle of Unrestricted Critical Thinking and the Principle of Democratic Reason—not only conflict with what is rationally required from a purely epistemic point of view, but also have bad cognitive consequences in furthering the spread of conspiracy theories and undermining trust in experts. I will then explain in more detail why we should typically defer to experts without using any of our own reasons regarding the subject matter. Moreover, I will show what place this leaves for critical thinking and why it does not have the crazy consequences that the critics expect.
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Archival date: 2020-05-07
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