Monday, May 9, 2011

Toward an Ethics of Expertise

"... The relationship between expert and layperson is grounded on an epistemic inequality. The expert knows more than the layperson about matters within the scope of her expertise. And if the layperson appeals to the judgment of the expert, he usually does so because he acknowledges the superiority of the expert's judgment to his own. Thus, the epistemology of the expert-layperson relationship can be focused on the concept of rational deference to epistemic authority. This rational deference lies at the heart of the particular form of power that an expert has and is also the center of the particular form of vulnerability that each of us, as a layperson, is in.

The concept of rational deference presupposes that the layperson appeals to the expert and acknowledges the rational authority of the expert. Obviously, someone must appeal to the expert, some layperson must acknowledge the authority of the expert or the expert's knowledge will be socially irrelevant and useless. So, the ideas of appealing to epistemic authority and rational deference may suffice for the epistemology of expertise. But when we turn to the ethics of expertise, we must not forget that often an expert's expertise is applied to those who have not appealed to the expert. They may well not even agree that this opinion represents a form of expertise. Indeed, expert opinion alters many people's lives without their knowledge, much less their consent ..." - From Toward an Ethics of Expertise by John Hardwig


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