Institutional Knowledge and its Normative Implications

In Rachael Mellin, Raimo Tuomela & Miguel Garcia-Godinez (eds.), Social Ontology, Normativity and Law. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter. pp. 63-78 (2020)
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We attribute knowledge to institutions on a daily basis, saying things like "the government knew about the threat" or "the university did not act upon the knowledge it had about the harassment". Institutions can also attribute knowledge to themselves, like when Maybank Global Banking claims that it offers its customers "deep expertise and vast knowledge" of the Southeast Asia region, or when the United States Geological Survey states that it understands complex natural science phenomena like the probability of earthquakes occurring along a given fault line. This article aims to discover when we can correctly attribute knowledge to an institution. I find this an interesting question, especially because when something does go wrong, all too often the official line of response from institutions is that they were unaware of the situation: in other words, they did not have enough information at their disposal. I will argue that institutions have fewer excuses for being ignorant than individuals do, and that many admissions of institutional knowledge are too modest. I begin by discussing a real-life example of the latter, before turning my attention to the usually fragmented nature of institutional knowledge. I also discuss the robustness of this knowledge, offering a distinction between two types of institutional knowledge. I then discuss knowledge parameters and why institutions have fewer excuses for not knowing about something than individuals do. I round off the chapter by examining institutional knowledge on climate change.

Author's Profile

Säde Hormio
University of Helsinki


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