Opaque and Translucent Dependence

To refine the vocabulary available for analyzing collaborative knowledge creation from the point of social epistemology, I suggest making a distinction between opaque and translucent epistemic dependence.[1] A scientist is opaquely dependent upon a colleague’s labor if she does not possess the expertise necessary to carry out independently, and to assess profoundly, the piece of scientific labor her colleague is contributing. I suggest, however, that if the scientist does possess the necessary expertise, then her dependence would not be opaque, but translucent. As we will see, the distinction between opaque and translucent epistemic dependence does not exhaust dependence relations in scientific practice. A range of dependence relations are neither entirely opaque, nor translucent. I will discuss why this is the case, and show how we can make sense of these relations within my distinction of opaque and translucent epistemic dependence.

  • [1] The expression “epistemic opacity” has been used by philosophers of science in different contextsbefore. Soler (2011) uses the expression to highlight the fact that tacit components of scientificpractice cannot be explicated and thus remain “opaque.” Lenhard (2006), in turn, uses “opacity”as a synonym for the limited comprehensibility of mathematically complex simulation models, andincomprehensibility is also what I denote by the expression.
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