What are good ways of managing our beliefs?

Western philosophy has been dominated by an ideal of and atomistic knower. The view disregards the role of trust as a base of knowledge, says professor Maria Lasonen-Aarnio.

What are your research topics?

My main research is in epistemology: I am interested in the relation between epistemic success (knowledge) and competence.

Successful beliefs constitute knowledge, but beliefs formed in perfectly good ways can be false. Sometimes we can know despite believing in problematic ways.

What, then, are good ways of managing our beliefs? Might this, for instance, depend on the environment a subject is embedded in?

Where and how does the topic of your research have an im­pact? 

Forming beliefs is so mundane that we hardly pay attention to it. They just evolve without much effort. But how should we go about forming and revising our beliefs?

On my view, the question can’t be answered by appeal to something internal to the mind of the agent. Instead, we need to ask what kinds of tendencies or habits – philosophers talk of dispositions – are conducive to knowledge.

The goodness of such tendencies can depend on things like social context and the informational structures surrounding an agent: if, for instance, we are forming beliefs in an echo chamber created by social media, then ways of managing our beliefs that have served us well over millennia can lead to a distorted view of the world.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Western philosophy has been dominated by an ideal of an atomistic knower: the rational subject forms their beliefs by relying on their own experiences and reasoning. However, most of our knowledge is based on trusting the testimony of others.

Many recent phenomena underline the importance of the right kinds of epistemic structures: if, for instance, evidence is being filtered in ways that are not transparent, or one ends up in an epistemic echochamber, then even a fully rational subject can form a distorted view of the world.

I’m excited to see epistemologists thinking about knowledge from a more social and structural point of view.

Maria Lasonen-Aarnio is a professor of theoretical philosophy in the Faculty of Arts.

Watch Maria Lasonen-Aarnio's inaugural lecture as a new professor on 25.5.2021 on YouTube.

Read about the other newly appointed professors.