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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 14, Issue 1, Spring 2007

James McBain
Pages 125-133
DOI: 10.5840/pcw200714124

Epistemological Expertise and the Problem of Epistemic Assessment

How do laypeople sitting on a jury make determinations of expertise? How, if at all, can laypersons epistemically assess the expertise of an expert or rival experts? Given that the domains of expertise are quite technical, if laypersons are to adjudicate the various proposed and often conflicting claims of experts, they must be able to determine the reliability of the experts as well as the truth of their claims. One way to address these concems is to say that the layperson needs to be in a position to make the determination herself. This view I will call individualism. Individualism maintains the burden of epistemic assessment is on the layperson, not on the expert. One such version of individualism is Jason Borenstein’s proposal as to what is needed for laypersons to make such an assessment. Borenstein’s proposal turns on the laypersons’ ability to understand the domain of expertise as well as the putative expert’s ability to satisfy a proficiency test. What I hope to show is that this proposal fails for two reasons. I argue that the nlove to proficiency tests does not warrant any layperson’s determination of truth or reliability and that given the limited epistemic abilities of laypersons they are not able to satisfy Borenstein’s proposed conditions for determination.

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