Epistemic Agents - Communities and Individuals (Patton-2019)

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This is an answer to the question Epistemic Agents that states "There are two types of epistemic agents – individual and communal."

Epistemic Agents - Communities and Individuals was formulated by Paul Patton in 2019.1

Scientonomic History

Acceptance Record

This theory has never been accepted.

Suggestions To Accept

Here are all the modifications where the acceptance of this theory has been suggested:
ModificationCommunityDate SuggestedSummaryVerdictVerdict RationaleDate Assessed
Sciento-2019-0015Scientonomy26 December 2019Accept that there are two types of epistemic agents – individual and communal. Also accept the question of applicability of the laws of scientific change to individuals as a legitimate topic of scientonomic inquiry.Open

Question Answered

Epistemic Agents - Communities and Individuals (Patton-2019) is an attempt to answer the following question: Who can be a bearer of a mosaic? Can a community be a bearer of a mosaic? Can an individual be a bearer of a mosaic? Can an instrument be a bearer of a mosaic?

See Epistemic Agents for more details.


An epistemic agent is an agent capable of taking epistemic stances towards epistemic elements. The notion of epistemic agency implies that an agent takes epistemic stances intentionally. That is:

  1. the agent has a semantic understanding of the propositions that constitute the epistemic element in question, and of its alternatives, and
  2. the agent is capable of choosing among them with reason, and with the goal of acquiring knowledge.

Thus, since both individuals and communities can meet these conditions, there can be both individual and communal epistemic agents.

Individual Epistemic Agent

A typical individual human being can satisfy the absolute requirements of the definition. The main exceptions are prelinguistic infants, or people with certain neurological conditions that render them incapable of understanding propositions. Besides these absolute constraints, the applicability of the definition may also vary as a matter of degree, since individuals may differ one from another in the depth of their semantic understanding of the epistemic element in question and other contextually relevant epistemic elements. Such differences might be produced, for example, by scientific or professional training. An individual's merits as an epistemic agent will be assessed by others based on whether their claims can satisfy the requirements of the method employed by those others. The issues raised by norms of epistemic merit are best understood in terms of the concept of authority delegation.

Communal Epistemic Agent

An epistemic community, by definition, has a collective intentionality to know the world and can thus be said to pursue the goal of acquiring knowledge.2 In order for an epistemic community to be a communal epistemic agent, it must be the case that its epistemic stances belong to the community as a whole, rather than simply to its constituent members. To understand how this can be, we must consider some general properties of systems with multiple interacting parts. Such systems, if their parts are appropriately organized in relation to one another, often exhibit emergent properties.34567pp. 274-312 William Wimsatt defined the emergent properties of a system as those that depend on the way its parts are organized.67pp. 274-312 Aggregate systems as those in which the parts do not bear an organized relationship to one another. The parts all play similar causal roles and can be interchanged or rearranged without consequence. The behaviour of the whole is just an additive, statistical consequence of that of its parts and no emergent properties are present. A jumbled pile of electronic parts is an example of an aggregate system. Its properties, like its mass and its volume, are just the sum of the masses and volumes of all its parts. A composed system possesses new emergent properties due to the way in which its parts are organized in relation to one another. A radio assembled by arranging electronic parts in the proper relation to one another is an example of a composed system. The ability to be a radio is an emergent property because none of the radio's parts exhibit it by itself. The parts are organized so that each one plays its own distinctive, specialized role in producing the emergent property.

A number of authors have argued that epistemic communities are organized so as to give rise to emergent properties 8910111213 Wimsatt's ideas have been specifically applied to epistemic communities by Theiner and O'Connor. 13 An epistemic community is an organized system of individual epistemic agents, each of which makes its own distinctive contribution to the epistemic stances taken by the communal agent as a whole. These roles are determined by institutional and other forms of organization of the communal agent, and involve varied and complementary areas of specialized knowledge. Collective decision-making processes and institutional frameworks interact with and influence the views of individual community members. These allow a community to take epistemic stances towards epistemic elements that are distinct from those its individual members might take if left to their own devices. In an analysis of legal decision-making processes, Tollefsen 14 has shown that there are a variety of circumstances under which a community's epistemic stances are not the simple aggregate of its individual member's stances. Longino 151617 maintains that, when communities have normatively appropriate structures, critical interactions among community members holding different points of view mitigate the influence of individual subjective preferences and allow communities to achieve a level of objectivity in their taking of epistemic stances that are not generally possible for individual agents. Barseghyan 18pp. 43-52 has argued that the methods used by individual prominent scientists often, in fact, do not coincide with those of their community and that a community's acceptance of a theory is a function of the methods employed by that community rather than individual idiosyncracies. Thus, it appears that most epistemic communities fit the requirements for communal epistemic agents.


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Questions About This Theory

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  1. ^  Patton, Paul. (2019) Epistemic Tools and Epistemic Agents in Scientonomy. Scientonomy 3, 63-89. Retrieved from https://scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/33621.
  2. ^  Overgaard, Nicholas. (2017) A Taxonomy for the Social Agents of Scientific Change. Scientonomy 1, 55-62. Retrieved from https://www.scientojournal.com/index.php/scientonomy/article/view/28234.
  3. ^  Bedau, Mark. (2003) Downward causation and autonomy of weak emergence. Principia 6, 5-50.
  4. ^  Kim, Jaegwon. (1999) Making sense of emergence. Philosophical Studies 95 (1), 3-36.
  5. ^  O'Connor, Timothy and Yu Wong, Hong. (2015) Emergent properties. In Zalta (Ed.) (2017). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/properties-emergent/.
  6. a b  Wimsatt, William C. (2006) Aggregate, composed, and evolved systems: Reductionistic heuristics as means to more holistic theories. Biology and Philosophy 21, 667-702.
  7. a b  Wimsatt, William C. (2007) Reengineering philosophy for limited beings: Piecewise approximations to reality. Harvard University Press.
  8. ^  List, Christian and Pettit, Philip. (2006) Group agency and supervenience. The Southern Journal of Philosophy 44 (S1), 85-105.
  9. ^  Palermos, Spyridon Orestis and Pritchard, Duncan. (2016) The distribution of epistemic agency. In Reider (2016), 109-126.
  10. ^  Palermos, Spyridon Orestis. (2016) The dynamics of group cognition. Minds and Machines 26 (4), 409-440.
  11. ^  Theiner, Georg. (2015) Group-sized distributed cognitive systems. In Ludwig and Jankovic (2015), 233-248.
  12. ^  Allen, Colin; Theiner, Georg and Goldstone, Robert. (2010) Recognizing Group Cognition. Cognitive Systems Research 11, 378-395.
  13. a b  Theiner, Georg and O'Connor, Timothy. (2010) The Emergence of Group Cognition. In Corradini and O'Connor (2010), 78-120.
  14. ^  Tollefsen, Deborah. (2004) Collective Epistemic Agency. Southwest Philosophy Review 20 (1), 2-12.
  15. ^  Longino, Helen. (1990) Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton University Press.
  16. ^  Longino, Helen. (2019) The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge. In Zalta (Ed.) (2017).
  17. ^  Longino, Helen. (1996) Cognitive and Non-cognitive Values in Science: Rethinking the Dichotomy. In Nelson and Nelson (1996), 39-58.
  18. ^  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.