Epistemic authority: a pragmatic approach.

TitleEpistemic authority: a pragmatic approach.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationSubmitted
AuthorsDe Bal, I

In this paper, I investigate how we can legitimate that certain regularities get epistemic authority in specific contexts of scientific practice. With “epistemic authority” I refer to the fact that regularities are trusted to achieve epistemic goals like prediction, explanation and manipulation. For my analysis, I use the Neuber rule, a regularity used to model creep in notches, as an exemplar. I distinguish two traditional ways of legitimating epistemic authority: a necessitarian approach and an epistemic mark approach. Throughout the paper, I argue that neither is, in its current form, sufficient to account for the epistemic authority of regularities like the Neuber rule. Regarding necessity, I expand arguments from Matthias Frisch’s work in philosophy of physics to show that (1) the Neuber rule is currently not successfully derived from (more) fundamental laws, (2) the idea that there are truly fundamental laws that can be used to represent any phenomenon is not unproblematic given the functioning of scientific practice, and (3) even if there are such fundamental laws, there is no guarantee that their necessity is undamaged by the modelling practices of science. I then present an alternative that resembles the basic idea behind the epistemic mark approach, but is significantly more informative. For this part, I build on insights from Sandra Mitchell’s work in philosophy of biology. This results in a pragmatic approach to epistemic authority. At the same time, this paper functions as a defence and expansion of both Frisch and Mitchell’s work. I also emphasize the benefits of combining insights from various philosophical disciplines.

Citation KeyDeBal2017epauth
Download PDF (Author PDF)
PDF author (public):