Self-trust and critical thinking online: a relational account

Social Epistemology (2022)
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Abstract

An increasingly popular solution to the anti-scientific climate rising on social media platforms has been the appeal to more critical thinking from the user's side. In this paper, we zoom in on the ideal of critical thinking and unpack it in order to see, specifically, whether it can provide enough epistemic agency so that users endowed with it can break free from enclosed communities on social media (so called epistemic bubbles). We criticise some assumptions embedded in the ideal of critical thinking online and, instead, we propose that a better way to understand the virtuous behaviour at hand is as critical engagement, namely a mutual cultivation of critical skills among the members of an epistemic bubble. This mutual cultivation allows members within an epistemic bubble (in contrast, as we will show, with the authority-based models of epistemic echo chambers) to become more autonomous critical thinkers by cultivating self-trust. We use the model of relational autonomy as well as resources from work on epistemic self-trust and epistemic interdependence to develop an explanatory framework, which in turn may ground rules for identifying and creating virtuous epistemic bubbles within the environments of social media platforms.

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