Professor Leiter will present his paper “Free Speech on the Internet: The Crisis of Epistemic Authority.” Professor Leiter’s presentation will be followed by a Q&A session.
Much of our knowledge of the world comes not from direct sensory experience, but from reliance on epistemic authorities, individuals or institutions that tell us what we ought to believe. For example, what most of us believe about natural selection, climate change or the Holocaust comes from our reliance on epistemic authorities (scientists, historians). Sustaining epistemic authority depends, crucially, on social institutions that inculcate reliable second-order norms about whom to believe about what. The traditional media has been crucial in promulgating and sustaining such norms. The Internet has obliterated the intermediaries who made that possible, and, in the process, undermined the epistemic standing of actual experts. This has been a particularly acute problem in the United States. I consider some possible changes to existing free speech doctrine in the U.S. to remedy the epistemological crisis brought about by the Internet.