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Digital Knowledge—A New Framework for Digital Epistemic Virtues


   School of Divinity, History, Philosophy and Art History

   Thursday, June 30, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are increasingly in the grip of an information epidemic, which the spread of health misinformation online along with rising distrust of experts has only served to highlight with tragic emphasis. This project takes as a starting point that addressing the infodemic requires serious engagement not only with its symptoms but also with its fundamental causes - which fall within the remit of social epistemology, which studies how knowledge is shared, and how individuals can become more responsible consumers of information. Those who share fake news online often present themselves as trustworthy and well-informed, in a way that might easily deceive not only dedicated conspiracy theorists, but also those unskilled at distinguishing reliable from unreliable sources. The problem is amplified even further by what science has shown about the spread rate of online misinformation. Most academic research and policy initiatives have focused on treating symptoms of this infodemic rather than the causes. One prominent political strategy aimed at combatting the spread of disinformation has taken the form of deleting content (Facebook) and censoring posters who violate social media terms of policy (Twitter). Such strategies have important shortcomings, as there is evidence that simply hiding content or banning users in cases where the media consumer is not privileged to the rationale for doing so can itself exacerbate conspiratorial thinking patterns, thus, furthering the problem. Even more, content removal policies effectively only sanction violations of existing norms online; such policies neither identify the source of the problem, nor clearly outline positive norms.

The project will use the latest tools of social epistemology and virtue epistemology in order to put our understanding of online inquiry and information sharing on an entirely new footing, to better understand the sources of online epistemic risk, and to better train ourselves to navigate them skilfully. One limitation to previous epistemological approaches to the online infodemic is that they have placed the theoretical focus on brainbound cognition, in isolation from the technologies in which we are deeply and inextricably scaffolded. This kind of focus is unsurprising, given that traditional epistemology has only in the past decade or so begun to theorise about knowledge and intellectual virtues in a way that appreciates how good thinking is not clearly separable in many cases from good cognitive scaffolding, that is, from good and responsible ways of relying on our environments and on technology to further our intellectual goals. The project develops a new and innovative framework for theorizing about digital epistemic virtues, and vices - traits of thinkers that can enable them to better navigate information online, better assess online epistemic risk, and more efficiently convert digital information into digital knowledge. In addition to academic outputs, the project has a practical objective, which is towork with educationalists and policy makers in order to propose new and innovative ways we can educate for digital virtues, and in this way, to put our theory into practice.

Under expert supervision by leading researchers, the PhD candidate will develop their own research questions in social epistemology, with special focus on digital knowledge against the background of a framework for digital epistemic virtues.


Funding Notes

This scholarship commences in September 2022 and will provide a full tuition fee waiver and a maintenance stipend of £6,000 per academic year. Subject to satisfactory progress, the scholarship will be awarded for three years.
The successful applicant must have at least a 2:1, or international equivalent, degree, in philosophy, which includes courses in epistemology.

References

Two academic references

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