SOCIETAL CHALLENGES Lectures 2023
24 January 2023, 14:00-15:30 CET
There is a surge of belief in conspiracy theories and other anti-expert accounts of events. A growing academic literature seeks to explain this in psychological terms, for example as driven by groupthink, anxiety, or a desire for certainty. What contributors to this literature tend to ignore, however, is that belief in expert accounts, often considered “mainstream,” can be similarly epistemically suspect, and subject to similar psychological explanation. Problematic belief-forming tendencies such as bias, groupthink, and anxiety-aversion can arise around belief in expert accounts too, and are well documented in the history of science. This talk explores a form of epistemically problematic belief in expert accounts that I call science fundamentalism. Science fundamentalism, it turns out, strongly resembles belief in anti-expert accounts such as conspiracy theories. One take-home message is that, if we are not careful, the science-friendly among us may focus so much on criticizing those who believe anti-expert accounts that we fail to notice these problematic tendencies among believers of expert accounts. If science is really to be a gold standard for knowledge, we must avoid science fundamentalism and cultivate intellectual humility. We must also learn to trust without being gullible, and to criticize without being cynical.
Katherine Dormandy is professor of philosophy at the Department of Christian Philosophy, University of Innsbruck. One major focus of her research is epistemology and its applications in social settings. Central topics include partiality in beliefs, epistemic authority, religious and worldview disagreement, and the epistemic import of trust and first-person narratives. Her research is sensitive to the psychological and moral-psychological aspects of human reasoning, and to the relevance of our social location on the way we think. Another focus of her research is to apply the tools of philosophy to medicine and medical information science, with an eye toward improving the ways in which medical information systems and databases enable anonymized patient data to be shared and used.
She gained several Degrees from Rutgers University, USA, Leipzig University, Germany and Oxford University, UK, where she also completed her PhD in 2013. Several positions followed in Munich and Berlin, Germany, and in St. Louis, USA, before she arrived in Innsbruck in 2015, first as Lise-Meitner Fellow, then as Assitant Profesosr and finally as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2020.