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Approaches to Collective Knowledge

At this point, it should be clear that both the planetary science group and the molecular biology laboratory produce scientific knowledge collaboratively. But does that imply that the scientific knowledge they create is genuinely collective? Before I discuss this question, I want to mark the conceptual territory that my discussion seeks to cover.

First, I will limit myself to the question of whether collaboratively created scientific knowledge qualifies as “collective," leaving aside other forms of knowledge that research collaboration may produce. To distinguish analytically scientific knowledge from non-scientific knowledge is not a straightforward task, and it is not what I aim to do in this chapter. While I will make some remarks on such a distinction in Sect. 9.3, I suggest that we think of scientific knowledge in terms of the claims that collaborating co-authors make in research publications. This is not a refined analytic account of scientific knowledge, but it will help us to discuss the empirical case at hand.

Second, I will limit myself to accounts of genuinely collective knowledge, that is, knowledge that cannot be reduced to individual knowledge. Collective knowledge that can be reduced to individual knowledge can be, for example, shared, common knowledge that is held, in a more or less identical way, by several individual knowers. I will leave such kinds of collective knowledge aside and focus instead upon accounts ofirreducibly collective knowledge, as suggested by Gilbert (1989, 1994, 2000, 2013) and de Ridder (2014). As Gilbert’s and de Ridder’s work exemplify two complementary approaches to collective knowledge and have, particularly in the case of Gilbert, been a major factor in the epistemological debate on the subject, I will elaborate upon their work in more detail below.

The debate on collective knowledge is strongly rooted in Gilbert’s work. Gilbert (1989) formulated the concept of “group belief," a notion that has spilled over from social ontology into general epistemology and the social epistemology of science. Gilbert (2000) applied group belief to the analysis of science, explicating a sense in which scientific knowledge is genuinely collective and not attributable to individual scientists. When applying Gilbert’s group belief to the analysis of scientific knowledge, the latter has typically been conceived of as a kind of belief or similar doxastic state such as an “accepted view" (e.g., in Andersen, 2010; Wray, 2001). The conception of scientific knowledge as a kind of doxastic state refers to the paradigm of knowledge as “justified (true) belief," a paradigm that underlies my reflections of collective knowledge.

When building upon Gilbert’s group belief, notions of collective knowledge locate the collective quality of knowledge in its belief component. They “collectivize" belief. In contrast, de Ridder’s (2014) notion of collective scientific knowledge locates the collective quality of knowledge in the justification that scientific knowledge requires. So, while Gilbert holds that group belief cannot be reduced to individual believing, de Ridder argues that the justification of collective scientific knowledge cannot be reduced to the justification that individuals have. In focusing either on the belief component or the component of justification, Gilbert and de Ridder’s proposals are examples of complementary approaches to collective knowledge. In the following sections, I will discuss whether, and if so with what analytic benefit, Gilbert’s and de Ridder’s proposals of collective knowledge apply to the observed cases of collaborative knowledge creation.

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