Epistemic Obligations of the Laity

Episteme 20 (2):232-246 (2023)
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Very often when the vast majority of experts agree on some scientific issue, laypeople nonetheless regularly consume articles, videos, lectures, etc., the principal claims of which are inconsistent with the expert consensus. Moreover, it is standardly assumed that it is entirely appropriate, and perhaps even obligatory, for laypeople to consume such anti-consensus material. I maintain that this standard assumption gets things backwards. Each of us is particularly vulnerable to false claims when we are not experts on some topic – such falsehoods have systematic negative impacts on our doxastic attitudes that we can neither prevent nor correct. So, when there is clear expert consensus on a given scientific issue, while it is permissible for experts to consume anti-consensus material, laypeople have an epistemic obligation to avoid such material. This argument has important consequences for philosophical discussions of our epistemic obligations to perform or omit belief-influencing actions. Such discussions typically abstract away from the important differences between experts and laypeople. Accordingly, we should reject this typical practice as problematic, and insist instead that laypeople and experts have fundamentally different epistemic obligations.

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Boyd Millar
Trent University


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