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Lecture: “Social Epistemology of Deviant Beliefs: Epistemic Trust and Bounded Rationality” by Michael Baurmann

Datum evenement: 18 November 2021
Locatie: Online lecture via Zoom


15:00 pm CET via Zoom

Register and receive the zoom link by sending an email to: extremebeliefs.fgw@vu.nl

Social Epistemology of Deviant Beliefs: Epistemic Trust and Bounded Rationality

If we want to understand how extremist, fundamentalist or conspiracist world views and ideologies are established, we first have to comprehend the social processes which form the basis of the emergence and distribution of such beliefs. The focus is thereby not on individuals and their personal idiosyncrasies and psychological dispositions but on the dynamics of social-epistemic mechanisms. These dynamics can produce a mutual adaptation of beliefs in a group with increasing radicalization and alienation. Empirical evidence proves convincingly that trust in epistemic authorities such as opinion leaders, alleged experts or charismatic figures plays a central role in this process. However, it applies to all of us that most of our knowledge and our beliefs of the world is acquired by trusting the testimony of different kinds of epistemic sources, starting with the route description from the proverbial man in the street to information and judgements from journalists, teachers, priests, politicians and scientists. Therefore, there seems to be disturbing similarities between the acquisition of “justified true beliefs” through trust in the veritable authorities of a modern knowledge society and the belief in the truth of deviant world views propagated by the dubious authorities of a radical group. People may be locked in a “fundamentalist equilibrium” in which individuals who adopt the extremist and radical views of their group may behave less irrationally than it may seem at first sight.  We have to acknowledge that ordinary people cannot act according to the ideal standards of philosophical epistemology in everyday life but have to revert to a ready to use “street-level epistemology”. It should be taken into account that rational choice under the restrictions of limited resources can only be based on “bounded rationality” that diverges systematically from the demands of an exhaustive consideration and optimalisation.


In my talk I will

  1. describe how my approach is embedded in recent developments in Rational Choice theory,
  2. refer to the concept of bounded rationality,
  3. explain the role of epistemic trust in different variants of deviant beliefs,
  4. show how simulation models can produce interesting hypotheses about the establishment of epistemic authorities in radical groups.