Knowledge in a Social World

Knowledge in a Social World

Knowledge in a Social World

Knowledge in a Social World

Synopsis

Knowledge in a Social World offers a philosophy for the information age. Alvin Goldman explores new frontiers by creating a thoroughgoing social epistemology, moving beyond the traditional focus on solitary knowers. Social, cultural, and technological changes present new challenges to our ways of knowing and understanding, and philosophy must face these challenges. Against the tides of postmodernism and social constructionism Goldman defends the integrity of truth and shows how to promote it by well-designed forms of social interaction. He urges that social discourse promises more than the mere politics of consensus, and that suitably norm-governed debate and belief-revision can increase veridical knowledge. Goldman's aims are not just philosophical but practical. From science to education, from law to democracy, he shows why and how public institutions should seek knowledge-enhancing practices. He examines how cyberspace and other technologies expand the scope of communication, and warns of the need to safeguard content quality. He scrutinizes the free marketplace of ideas, the adversary system in the law, and media coverage of political campaigns. The result is a bold, timely, and systematic treatment of the philosophical foundations of an information society.

Excerpt

This is the best of times, or this is the worst of times, for the social pursuit of knowledge. Optimists point with pride to the World Wide Web and the Information Superhighway. They exult in the fact that with every new photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope we get more precise information about distant galaxies and greater insight into the origin of the universe. When have we been better endowed with information and knowledge? Pessimists point to more worrisome conditions. Broadcast political news in America increasingly comes in bite-sized morsels, and the average citizen has been shown to have sparse political knowledge. Ownership and control of news outlets increasingly reside in a few powerful media conglomerates. a small number of industrial corporations have more public communications power than any private businesses have ever possessed in world history (Bagdikian 1997: ix-x). On this scenario we seem perilously close to an Orwellian nightmare. How should these dramatically divergent perspectives be reconciled? Just how good or how bad are the prospects for knowledge in contemporary society?

This book does not provide an inventory of the current conditions for knowledge. It does, however, explore the ways that human knowledge can be increased via social transactions, whatever the present starting point happens to be. It is a cliché that ours is an information age; certainly it is an era in which issues of knowledge and information bombard us from every direction. What is missing, however, is a general theory of societal knowledge. What exactly is knowledge, as opposed to ignorance and error, and how can social factors contribute to its growth? This book attempts to construct such a theory. It lays philosophical foundations for a social theory of knowledge, and it assesses particular practices and institutions in terms of these foundations. It might be viewed as a philosopher's contribution to the shaping of an information-rich society.

This project falls within the subfield of philosophy that is standardly called "epistemology," but the project aims to widen epistemology's vista. Traditional epistemology has long preserved the Cartesian image of inquiry as an activity of isolated thinkers, each pursuing truth in a spirit of individualism and pure self-reliance. This image ignores the interpersonal and institutional contexts in which most knowledge endeavors are actually undertaken. Epistemology must come to grips with the social interactions that both brighten and threaten the prospects for knowledge. Although initial steps in the social direction have been taken in recent years, the present book aims to . . .

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