Epistemic Values

Epistemic Values

Epistemic values – together with moral, aesthetic, environmental and political values – are of central importance. We positively value clarity, precision, coherence, truth, knowledge, justification, rationality, understanding, intelligence, acuity, impartiality, thoroughness, discernment, honesty, openness, rigour, conciseness, relevance, curiosity, interest, accuracy, discovery, research, exploration, expertise... 

On the other hand, we look down on error, illusions, obscurity, approximation, stupidity, inconsistency, irrationality, ambiguity, exaggeration, confusion, self-deception, ignorance, verbosity, dogmatism, prolixity, mystification, plagiarism, impostures, sophisms, verbiage, speciousness, prevention, ideology, prejudice, blindness, lies, disinformation, bullshit, horror mundi...

While epistemic values – both positive and negative – are often invoked in the sciences and the public debate, they are seldom studied and often live in the shadow of moral, aesthetic or political values. The 13th Congress of the SoPhA – Société de Philosophie Analytique – aims to fill this gap by addressing such questions as:

  • What makes a value an epistemic value?

  • What are the varieties of epistemic values, epistemic virtues and vices, epistemic norms?

  • Is there a single fundamental positive epistemic value? If so, is it the value of knowledge? Of truth? Of understanding? Of rationality? If there are several fundamental positive epistemic values, how are they related?

  • Does knowledge of necessary facts have the same value as knowledge of contingent facts?

  • Can epistemic values and non-epistemic values be compared? If so, do epistemic values take precedence over the others? What about pious lies, useful approximations, pleasant beliefs, 'civic propaganda', benevolent omissions, exaggerations 'for the good cause'?

  • Do literature, painting, music, architecture... have an essential link with epistemic values?

  • Are there, in the field of epistemic values, phenomena analogous to moralism, self-righteousness, virtue signalling or moral grandstanding?

  • What is scientism? What is obscurantism? Is there a clear boundary between sciences and pseudosciences? Does common sense have a role to play in the pursuit of knowledge?

  • What is the relationship between epistemic values and universities? What is the place of non-epistemic values within them? Do epistemic values tend to give way to moral and political values in academia? What is wokism? What is cancel culture? Should we be concerned about them?

  • Are some emotions and desires essentially epistemic? (e.g. curiosity, interest, astonishment, boredom, surprise, fascination, bewilderment, love of wisdom, hatred of stupidity, being captivated, passionate, bewitched, blinded...) How to define them? How do they relate to epistemic values?

  • Can the theories of moral values be extended to epistemic values? Is it more difficult to be an anti-realist, an error theorist, a subjectivist, etc. about epistemic values? Can buck-passing theories be extended to epistemic values and norms? Or should we rather define mental or linguistic episodes such as beliefs and assertions in terms of their relations to epistemic values and norms?

  • Are some epistemic values more important for knowledge seeking than others? Are ideals such as ontological parsimony, descriptive accuracy or closeness to common sense in tension or do they concern distinct projects? Can we distinguish various philosophical schools (idealism, analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, hermeneutics...) by virtue of their relations to epistemic values?

  • Are some viewpoints more neutral or objective than others? How can the diversity of viewpoints contribute to the pursuit of epistemic values? Do we have a privileged access to our own condition (our mental states, our pains, our intentions, our emotions, our identity, the things that are good for us, the harms we suffer, the oppressive relationships we may find ourselves in...), or are we equally (or perhaps even more) fallible in these areas?

  • How do social factors come into play in the pursuit of epistemic values? Under what conditions do these factors hinder or enable the pursuit of knowledge? How do we select the right experts? What if they disagree? How can we improve the systems of selection and publication of scientific work?

  • What are the links between freedom of expression and the pursuit of epistemic values? Does the former have an instrumental value in relation to the latter? Can the defence of epistemic values - for example, the fight against fake news - justify restrictions on freedom of expression? Are such restrictions disguised forms of political censorship?

  • What are the arguments for and against state funding of universities and research? Are they analogous to the arguments for and against state funding of art? Are they affected by theories arguing that the function of education is to signal pre-existing skills rather than to develop new ones?

  • What is intellectual property? Is it beneficial to the pursuit of epistemic values or does it hinder this pursuit? How is the production of knowledge similar to the production of other goods and services? How is it different?

  • How does digitalization affect the pursuit of epistemic values? Should we fear that artificial intelligence will supplant human intelligence? Are social networks good or bad news for epistemic values? Do ontologies have a key role to play in making accessible the large amount of data produced today?