Monday, August 28, 2006

Wikipedias and Epistemology

It is interesting that one of the founders of the Wikipedia was interested in epistemology, and even studied it formally. Marshall Poe, the author of the Atlantic article on the topic, "The Hive" (September 2006), however, has no grasp of this discipline. This is evidenced in his ridiculous statement that truth is determined by consensus--as if belief (personal or collective) is identical to truth. If so, truth is extremely easy: just believe X and X is true. It is too easy, then--and absurd. You may believe that John Coltrane played tuba; but it is false, nevertheless. (He did once record with a tuba player, though.)

But truth is classically understood (and grasped at a common sense and basic level) as correspondence. X is true only if X corresponds to some reality. Truth is "written in the stars" as the author mentions; it is not written in a Wikipedia. At least that is not what makes it true, determines its truth.

Wiki entries may or may not be true. The one just entered on me is true--at least when I checked. Someone may have now edited it to read that Kenny G is my favorite musician (a prankster student of mine, perhaps). However knowledge (a term the author doesn't bother to define) requires:

1. S believes X is true.
2. X is true (objectively).
3. X has justification for her belief that X is true.

Wikipedias may suggest that certain truth-claims are true, but without a clear record of authorship or documentation (and with the contstant revisions), justification is difficult if not impossible to find.

One would hope for some philosophical analysis to be brought to a discussion of the Wikipedic world. I am still waiting to find one. Maybe some philosopher of technology or social epistemologist will fill that bill.


Jeff Burton said...

At least you have a wikipedia entry. All I have are some comments on a curmudgeonly blog, and I had to post those myself.

tm said...

Correspondence epistemology is on the outs, and has hasn't had a serious defender in about a century. There's a wealth of criticism out there if you're genuinely interested in engaging the topic.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


No, JPE. There are notable defenders of the correspondence view of truth today (not epistemology), including John Searle, William Alston. Nearly--if not all--analytic philosophers hold to it.

And, I am genuinely interested: I wrote a whole book on it: Truth Decay.