The Epistemology of Groups

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Oxford University Press, 2021 - Philosophy - 224 pages
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Groups are often said to bear responsibility for their actions, many of which have enormous moral, legal, and social significance. When children were separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of America's immigration policy, for example, the Trump Administration was said to be responsible for the harms these families suffered as a result. But are groups subject to normative assessment simply in virtue of their individual members being so, or are they somehow agents in their own right?

Answering this question depends on understanding key concepts in the epistemology of groups, as we cannot hold the Trump Administration responsible without first determining what it believed, knew, and said. Deflationary theorists hold that group phenomena can be understood entirely in terms of individual members and their states. Inflationary theorists maintain that group phenomena are importantly over and above, or otherwise distinct from, individual members and their states.

In The Epistemology of Groups Jennifer Lackey argues that neither approach is satisfactory. Groups are more than their members, but not because they have 'minds of their own, ' as the inflationists hold. Instead, she shows how group phenomena--like belief, justification, and knowledge--depend on what the individual group members do or are capable of doing while being subject to group-level normative requirements. This framework allows for the correct distribution of responsibility across groups and their individual members.


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About the author (2021)

Jennifer Lackey, Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy, Northwestern University

Jennifer Lackey is the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University. She is the author of Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge (OUP 2008), the editor of Academic Freedom (OUP 2018) and Essays in Collective Epistemology (OUP 2014), and a co-editor of The Epistemology of Disagreement: New Essays (OUP 2013) and The Epistemology of Testimony (OUP 2006). Jennifer is the winner of the Dr. Martin R. Lebowitz and Eve Lewellis Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution (2015) and the Young Epistemologist Prize (2005). Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

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