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Expertise and Rationality

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Expertise and Rationality

ABSTRACT: I explore the connection between expertise and rationality. I first make explicit the philosophically dominant view on this connection, i.e., the ‘expert-consultation’ view. This view captures the rather obvious idea that a rational way of proceeding on a matter of importance when one lacks knowledge is to consult experts. Next, I enumerate the difficulties which beset this view, locating them to some extent in the current philosophical literature on expertise and rationality. I then propose that different lessons should be drawn for rationality from the fact of expertise. One is that some empirical and phenomenological studies of the nature of expertise can be fruitfully applied by analogy to theories of the rational agent.

Chicken-sexers exist. It is a fact that there are experts in this and many other domains. It is also a fact that some philosophers, often epistemologists, take the fact of expertise to be bound up somehow or other with rationality. The standard articulation of this connection is that a rational way of proceeding on a matter of importance when one lacks knowledge is to consult experts. But does this view capture the full significance of the fact of expertise for rationality? In this paper I will argue that the fact of expertise has import beyond the standard view for the analysis of rationality. I will proceed by first considering in more detail the standard view, and then jump off from that discussion to draw a different lesson for our understanding of rationality from the fact of expertise.

It would seem that the connection between expertise and rationality is so obvious as to be mundane: when one lacks expertise on a given matter of importance, and there are people who have that expertise and who can be consulted without undue cost, then (ceteris paribus) one should consult such people. This prescription links expertise and rationality by means of expert-consultation. When our cars are kaputt, when our tooth aches, when the soufflé collapses, when our French falls short, and when our business lacks efficiency we consult the appropriate experts in order to believe and behave in ways that are sufficiently non-arbitrary so as to count as rational. Expert consultation is thus a resource for rationality: we have the remarkable cognitive ability to let the outcome of expert consultation affect what we believe. (1)

The preceding paragraph captures in a simplified way the powerful idea that the connection between expertise and rationality is that of expert consultation.
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