A virtue epistemology of the Internet: Search engines, intellectual virtues and education

Social Epistemology 32 (1):1-12 (2018)
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Abstract

This paper applies a virtue epistemology approach to using the Internet, as to improve our information-seeking behaviours. Virtue epistemology focusses on the cognitive character of agents and is less concerned with the nature of truth and epistemic justification as compared to traditional analytic epistemology. Due to this focus on cognitive character and agency, it is a fruitful but underexplored approach to using the Internet in an epistemically desirable way. Thus, the central question in this paper is: How to use the Internet in an epistemically virtuous way? Using the work of Jason Baehr, it starts by outlining nine intellectual or epistemic virtues: curiosity, intellectual autonomy, intellectual humility, attentiveness, intellectual carefulness, intellectual thoroughness, open-mindedness, intellectual courage and intellectual tenacity. It then explores how we should deploy these virtues and avoid the corresponding vices when interacting with the Internet, particularly search engines. Whilst an epistemically virtuous use of the Internet will not guarantee that one will acquire true beliefs, understanding or even knowledge, it will strongly improve one’s information-seeking behaviours. The paper ends with arguing that teaching and assessing online intellectual virtues should be part of school and university curricula, perhaps embedded in critical thinking courses, or even better, as individual units.

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Richard Heersmink
Tilburg University

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