Misinformation, denialism and the pandemic





For any topic on which one is not an expert, one must defer to more knowledgeable others. This goes against the expectations of epistemic autonomy and of a democratic division of knowledge. One solution to this tension is to give in to these expectations, which is equivalent to abandoning knowledge. Another solution is to restrict its effects to topics in which we have some practical interest. This proposal is unstable, because virtually any topic may be of practical interest, due to the identitary role of theories. These pressures for a symmetrical division of knowledge go against a central feature of human culture: the cooperative production of knowledge. A human group always knows more than each of its members, which means that, for everyone, part of what is known by one’s own group remains opaque. The refusal of the cognitive division of labor is one of the sources of denialism. There are three elements that favor this effect: the way of information spreads on the internet, the growth of inequality, and the far-right attacks on institutions that are responsible for the production of knowledge. The pandemic requires a great effort of knowledge. But along with knowledge, comes the demand for trust in opaque contents. The pandemic asks us for more trust, while it creates an atmosphere of deep distrust.

Key-words: Epistemology, division of epistemic labor, denialism, pandemic.

Author Biography

Ernesto Perini-Santos, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Professor of Philosophy at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais