May 26

Talking About Reputation

Gloria Origgi on trusting what we know

Last Wednesday we were joined by Paris-based Italian philosopher Gloria Origgi, who spoke to us about the complex relationship between knowledge and reputation. TeenClub member Paul gives us his account of the discussion here:

“Gloria Origgi was already sitting down as we all walked in. She began by introducing herself as coming from the “Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)” in Paris. “I’m interested in many topics which relate to the way we believe or know something,” she said, before making us all think a little more with a bit of a brain teaser: “Do you believe that there was a man on the moon in 1969? Why?”

“This caused an immediate and vehement response amongst her audience. Clearly, people verify the sources of information that provide us with these claims. There is clear and fairly easily obtainable evidence that the event took place. But most importantly, very few people if any seem to doubt that it did happen.

“Gloria reacted to this last comment with a smile. She argued that yes, some people did doubt the moon landing’s existence. Given that there was fierce competition between the two superpowers (the USSR and America) at the time, there would have been motivation for America to fake the event. Since the general consensus in western Europe at the time was that the US were the superheroes who had ‘saved Europeans from the Nazis’, there would be reason on our side to see Americas as being the rightful winners of that space race.

“Gloria did not want to alarm us however, reassuring as that she did believe in the moon landing, mainly through the authority of her parents who would’ve told her the news at the time. The question she was leading to however, had very little to do with the mood landing. Gloria introduced the idea that we put faith in some sources of knowledge based on a combination of different things. This includes whether we are implicated in the issue and whether one trusts these aforementioned sources of information. The natural question raised by this would be: ‘how much trust in a source does one need to claim that one knows something because of it?’. Trust involves the reputation of the thing or person trusted, so a further question would be ‘how is reputation important when one is searching for knowledge?’

“The answer to that Gloria presented was short. She gave the example of a local newspaper declaring that the landing took place versus a national news station. Which one would we be more inclined to believe? Obviously the larger and more prominent news station.

““A reputable source is reliable,” Gloria said, before continuing by asking us “how could one evaluate the credibility of, for example, a newspaper?”. Most present agreed that the absence of bias in reporting is very important. But, knowing who or what is at the source of the information is critical in determining whether this bias exists, which again brought us back to the importance of reputation when gathering knowledge. In Gloria’s words: “A true belief is known and justified” and “Justification is very indirect, so one must rely on different sources.” Whether one believes these sources or not depends immensely on the reputation of the sources.

“We then proceeded to talk about the implications of this, and of the importance of Gloria’s work. Most of us believe that we know quite a lot of things, however most of these things are found indirectly in varied ways. It can sometimes become very difficult to verify whether the information we claim to know is true, especially in our society where there is a “permanent state of indigestion of information” due to the onslaught of online sources. Gloria’s work on reputation, she told us, is critical as it allows for a better understanding of the way we know things and could thus help us filter out unreliable sources of information.

“Our reaction reinforced the importance of what she had just told us. Many brought up the seemingly relative current state of truth and of the difficulties of fact checking sources given how increasingly complex the things we learn have become. Despite the rather grim nature of these comments, Gloria ended on a hopeful note. There is, according to her, a “hierarchy of sources of knowledge” that could be made clear by uncovering the journey of a given information. By developing “tools that make explicit” the journey of a piece of information, we could see more clearly into the sea of information that we are currently exposed to. We would thus not need to be so reliant on the somewhat arbitrary way in which we react to reputation.”

By Paul S, TeenClub member.

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