Epistemic Vigilance by DAN SPERBER, FABRICE CL ́ EMENT, CHRISTOPHE HEINTZ, OLIVIER MASCARO, HUGO MERCIER, GLORIA ORIGGI AND DEIRDRE WILSON

http://www.dan.sperber.fr/wp-content/uploads/Epistemic-Vigilance-published.pdf

Trust is obviously an essential aspect of human interaction (and also an old
philosophical topic—see Origgi, 2005, 2008). What is less obvious is the claim
that humans not only end up trusting one another much of the time, but are also
trustful and willing to believe one another to start with, and withdraw this basic
trust only in circumstances where they have special reasons to be mistrustful p. 361

The descriptive issue has recently been taken up in experimental psychology.
In particular, work by Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues seems to show that our
mental systems start by automatically accepting communicated information, before
examining it and possibly rejecting it (Gilbert et al., 1990; Gilbert et al., 1993).
This can be seen as weighing (from a descriptive rather than a normative point
of view) in favour of an anti-reductionist approach to testimonial knowledge. p. 362

When the communicator is producing a logical
argument, she typically intends her audience to accept the conclusion of this
argument not on her authority, but because it follows from the premises:
Conclusion of argument: p, q, therefore r (from already stated premises): While U[tterer]
intends that A[ddressee] should think that r, he does not expect (and so intend)
A to reach a belief that r on the basis of U’s intention that he should reach it.
The premises, not trust in U, are supposed to do the work (Grice, 1969/1989,
p. 107).

Despite the existence of such counter-examples, Grice thought he had compelling
reasons to retain this third-level intention in his analysis of ‘speaker’s meaning’. Sperber and Wilson, on the other hand, were analysing not ‘meaning’
but ‘communication’, and they argued that this involves a continuum of cases
between ‘meaning’ and ‘showing’ which makes the search for a sharp demarcation
otiose. In producing an explicit argument, for instance, the speaker both means and
shows that her conclusion follows from her premises. Although Grice’s discussion
of this example was inconclusive, it is relevant to the study of epistemic vigilance.
It underscores the contrast between cases where a speaker intends the addressee to
accept what she says because she is saying it, and those where she expects him to
accept what she says because he recognises it as sound.We will shortly elaborate on
this distinction between vigilance towards the source of communicated information
and vigilance towards its content.
Clearly, comprehension of the content communicated by an utterance is a
precondition for its acceptance. However, it does not follow that the two processes
occur sequentially. Indeed, it is generally assumed that considerations of acceptability
play a crucial role in the comprehension process itself. p. 367

What happens when the result of processing some new piece of information
in a context of existing beliefs is a contradiction? When the new information
was acquired through perception, it is quite generally sound to trust one’s own
perceptions more than one’s memory and to update one’s beliefs accordingly. p. 375

We would like to speculate, however, that reasoning in non-communicative
contexts is an extension of a basic component of the capacity for epistemic vigilance
towards communicated information, and that it typically involves an anticipatory
or imaginative communicative framing. p. 379

The institutional organisation of epistemic vigilance is nowhere more obvious than
in the sciences, where observational or theoretical claims are critically assessed via
social processes such as laboratory discussion, workshops, conferences, and peer
review in journals. The reliability of a journal is itself assessed through rankings,
and so on (Goldman, 1999).
Social mechanisms for vigilance towards the source and vigilance towards the
content interact in many ways. In judicial proceedings, for instance, the reputation
of the witness is scrutinised in order to strengthen or weaken her testimony. In the
sciences, peer review is meant to be purely content-oriented, but is influenced all
too often by the authors’ prior reputation (although blind reviewing is supposed to
suppress this influence), and the outcome of the reviewing process in turn affects
the authors’ reputation. Certification of expertise, as in the granting of a PhD,
generally involves multiple complex assessments from teachers and examiners, who
engage in discussion with the candidate and among themselves; these assessments
are compiled by educational institutions which eventually deliver a reputation label,
‘PhD’, for public consumption.
Here we can do no more than point to a p. 383

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