Cartesian Social Epistemology? Contemporary Social Epistemology and Early Modern Philosophy
Many contemporary social epistemologists take themselves to be combatting an individualist approach to knowledge typified by Descartes. Although I agree that Descartes presents an individualist picture of scientific knowledge, he does allow some practical roles for reliance on the testimony and beliefs of others. More importantly, however, his reasons for committing to individualism raise important issues for social epistemology, particularly about how reliance on mere testimony can propagate prejudices and inhibit genuine understanding. The implications of his views are worked out more fully by some of his immediate successors; I examine how François Poulain de la Barre, and (briefly) Mary Astell analyze the social conditions for epistemic agency in a Cartesian vein.
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