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Knowledge, community and ignorance

Townley, Cynthia 2000 , 'Knowledge, community and ignorance', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Most epistemologists have assumed that the elimination of ignorance is an uncontroversial
epistemic goal: the ideal and virtuous knower is maximally informed. This assumption is
automatically extended to the assertion that ideal knowers will also be maximally
informative. I challenge both these assumptions and their implication that it is always
desirable to eliminate or minimise ignorance. I argue that ignorance, far from being an
epistemic flaw in need of remedy, is demanded by important epistemic virtues, especially
when the importance of epistemic community is recognised.
An initial account of the importance of ignorance is provided through a discussion of virtue
epistemology. Standard virtue-based accounts focus on the acquisition of information
through empirical evidence: scrupulousness, rigour, and objectivity are commonly
identified as epistemic virtues. I argue that this list is incomplete, and must be
supplemented with empathy, cooperation, discretion and humility. I show that while
epistemology must attend to the desirable characteristics of knowers, epistemic virtues
cannot all be understood as knowledge maximising. Furthermore, a properly
communitarian epistemology must attend to relationships between knowers characterised
by trust, respect and credibility. I will show that these features of epistemic interactions
require the tolerance and even promotion of ignorance.
I then show the ideals of complete knowledge, epistemic uniformity and consensus to be
flawed and inadequate. I argue that the ideal of knowers as information maximisers should
be replaced with a conception of knowers as cooperative "second persons." The
communitarian virtue epistemology defended in the first three chapters forms the basis for
the discussions of trust, empathy, and authority that follow. I develop an account of trust
as a source of knowledge that cannot be reduced to treating persons and their claims as
evidence. Empathic knowledge requires discretion and respect from virtuous knowers
rather than a desire to accumulate all the facts. I argue further that the epistemic responsibilities of expert knowers are not limited to the provision or acquisition of accurate
information. I show that an approach to knowledge that incorporates ignorance and starts
from the ways that virtuous knowers engage with one another is a promising way to
analyse practical epistemic concerns such as indigenous intellectual property rights. The
thesis as a whole demonstrates that taking account of ignorance in epistemological theory
enhances an adequate analysis of a range of epistemic practices that cannot be reduced to
knowledge maximising. Ignorance is both theoretically indispensable to epistemological
analyses and practically invaluable for a community of knowers.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Townley, Cynthia
Keywords: Communities, Ignorance (Theory of knowledge), Knowledge, Theory of
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2000 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2000. Includes bibliographical references

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