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Many scholars claim that liberal democratic societies are very effective at producing knowledge. Put generally, democratic decision-making processes are valued at least in part for their epistemic benefits. Yet real-life political debates are often characterized by appeals to emotion, ignorance of the details of policy, and the repeated assertion of talking-points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Further, a survey of the recent literature in psychology reveals that humans are prone to all sorts of cognitive and emotional biases that are highly relevant to the epistemic ideal of liberal democratic deliberation.
This conference will bring together scholars working at the intersection of political philosophy, epistemology, and empirical psychology. The conference theme, Political Epistemology, is deliberately broad because there many ways in which epistemologists and psychologists can learn from political philosophers, and vice versa. For example, political philosophers have long been interested in reasonable disagreements, or what Rawls called “the fact of reasonable pluralism,” while disagreement has only recently become widely discussed in epistemology. There are also many unexplored ways in which theorizing about politics might benefit from the conceptual tools of epistemology; for instance, contemporary epistemology has focused on the social dimensions of knowledge, the epistemology of testimony, the norms governing assertion, and group belief. In addition, the empirical tools of psychology might fruitfully inform our analyses of real-world political issues and political theory in general. For example, the many individual and social cognitive imperfections that characterize actual human psychology seem to threaten the formation of knowledge relevant to politics. One might worry that existing discussions of the epistemic benefits of liberal democratic deliberation rely too heavily on idealized assumptions about the rationality of deliberators.
These are just a few of many possible ways in which political philosophy, epistemology, and psychology might intersect. Other topics to be discussed may include (but are not limited to) the following:
• The role of truth in politics
• Deliberative democracy and its challenges, both conceptual and empirical
• The problem of deep disagreement
• Epistemic paternalism
• The epistemology and politics of trust
• Epistemic injustice
• The epistemology of ignorance (including case studies; e.g. Brexit, Trump)
• The epistemology of propaganda
• The role of ‘idealization’ in epistemology
• Cognitive biases and politics
This conference is intended to represent the best work exploring these and other issues at the intersection of epistemology, psychology, and politics. There will be two keynote lectures, by Elizabeth Anderson (Michigan) and Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij (Birkbeck), as well as space for up to 5 submitted papers.
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