First and Second-Order Reasons
Next, let us see how such a practice-minded understanding of epistemic dependence plays together with Hardwig’s (1985, 1988, 1991) account of dependence relations, which is formulated explicitly with regard to collaborative scientific knowledge creation. Hardwig reflects upon epis- temic dependence from the perspective of the dependent scientist. The question that frames his reflections is the question of how a person can acquire “well-founded" beliefs—in my wording: justified beliefs—in the absence of sufficient first-hand evidence. His answer to this question is, in short, to argue that a person can acquire well-founded beliefs by appealing to the intellectual authority of a second person. For him, thus, epistemic dependence is a matter of reference to another person’s intellectual authority, which, I would like to add, can reside in scientific expertise but also in “first-hand," eyewitness knowledge of experimental procedures and their outcomes.
The point of departure for Hardwig’s argument is to introduce the notion of “reason," saying that to have a well-founded belief means to have good reasons for holding this belief. A good reason for holding the belief thatp is to have sufficient observational and/or inferential evidence that p obtains. I will also call evidence of this kind “immediate" evidence. What, however, if an individual, for whom it would be important to know whether or not p is the case, cannot have sufficient observational and/or inferential evidence, neither for believing that p nor for believing that not-p? Does that mean that this individual has no possibility whatsoever of acquiring a well-founded belief as to p? No, Hardwig argues, and he introduces what I call second-order reasons for having the belief thatp.
Translating Hardwig’s argument into my terminology, first-order reasons for p are reasons that spring from having observational and/or inferential evidence for p. If first-order reasons cannot be had, then it is rational for an individual A to rely upon another individual B affirming thatp—provided A has good reasons to believe that B has sufficient evidence forp (Hardwig, 1985, p. 336). Such good reasons to believe thatp when B is saying so (or the products of his labor are indicating it) are second-order reasons, which are reasons concerning B’s intellectual authority, that is, his qualities as an eyewitness, his honesty and expertise (Hardwig, 1985, p. 337, 339; see also Hardwig, 1991, p. 700). As I will elaborate in Chap. 8, second-order reasons concern the trustworthiness of B as a scientific collaborator.
Following Hardwig, I maintain that second-order reasons concerning a collaborator’s scientific trustworthiness can justify a scientist’s belief that p—even though second-order reasons provide neither inferential nor observational support for the proposition that p. Note also that second- order reasons do not directly concern the question as to whether or not that p actually obtains. Second-order reasons concern somebody’s trustworthiness, and as such they are not identical to reasons which would justify the assumption that somebody’s testimony would always be reliable (or, that his or her labor would always be error free).
Summarizing, Hardwig characterizes instances of epistemic dependence as situations in which a dependent collaborator A, in her believing that p, resorts to second-order reasons relating to the trustworthiness of B (who, in turn, possesses immediate evidence for p). In the scenario of epistemic dependence that Hardwig presents, the primary question for A to answer is not whether p is right or wrong. Rather, the crucial question for A is how she can reasonably rely on B. Is she warranted to rely upon
B’s intellectual authority in the question of p? If A possesses no expertise as to p, A will have to establish B’s reliability as to the belief thatp on grounds other than the expertise at stake. In this case, A’s judgment to adopt or reject p is not based on expertise as to p and the evidence for p, which at least B is supposed to have, remains opaque to A (Hardwig,
1985, p. 34lff.).
My intention is to add more nuance to this picture. If the dependent scientist A has some expertise on the issue in question, she may be in a position to acquire some first-order reasons, too—only that these first- order reasons may not suffice to justify A fully in believing that p in accordance with scientific standards. Therefore, A’s first-order reasons need to be supplemented with second-order reasons as to the intellectual authority of her collaborator B. In a scenario where A, albeit ultimately dependent on B, is able to make use of her own expertise, the character of epistemic dependence is different from situations in which A fully relies on B. In order to account for this difference, I suggest distinguishing two forms of epistemic dependence in Sect. 7.3. Before I do that, I will elaborate upon the empirical insights that have guided me in drawing this distinction.