Yesterday some friends on Facebook were kicking around the question of whether there is such a thing as applied epistemology and if so what it covers. There are plenty of candidates, but there is one notion of applied epistemology that I’ve been pushing for a while – the idea that groups engage in strategies to undermine the epistemic position of their adversaries.
In the military context this is part of irregular warfare (IW) and it often employs elements of PSYOPS (psychological operations). Applied epistemology should help us develop strategies for armoring ourselves against these PSYOPS. I wrote a brief essay on the idea here. What most people don’t realize is that PSYOPS aren’t just deployed in the battlefield, but they are currently being deployed in our day-to-day lives, and I don’t just mean via advertising and public relations.
This very much seems like a job for fallacy theory, broadly speaking. Here’s an example from the article referred to above:
One of the key observations by Waltz is that an epistemic attack on an organization does not necessarily need to induce false belief into the organization; it can sometimes be just as effective to induce uncertainty about information which is in point of fact reliable. When false belief does exist in an organization (as it surely does in every organization and group) the goal might then be to induce confidence in the veracity of these false beliefs. In other words, epistemic attack is not just about getting a group to believe what is false, it is about getting the group to have diminished credence in what is true and increased credence in what is false.
One obvious mechanism for this goal is the time-honored art of sophistry.
Thanks Phil Mayo for the pointer!