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Second Read, Code

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on October 21, 2007 at 11:54:25 am

Code, Round Two 



Hillary A. Jones

Second Reading of Code, On Trust and Epistemic Responsibility


Code notes that epistemologists have “defined ‘legitimate knowledge’ by ‘its rejection of trust’; indeed, ‘trust and authority stand against the very idea of science’ (note 64, refers to Shapin’s Social History of Truth) as the putatively most reliable form of human knowledge” (269).  She acknowledges Quinean naturalism reintroduces some space for responsibility and trust, but does not embrace them and seems to seek to distance itself from issues of trust.  A major part of her project is encouraging epistemic responsibility, though, and so these questions become central for her argument.


Code introduces at least seven ways trust functions between doctors and patients.  They include: trusting a physician enough to enter the consulting room, trust in a doctor’s knowledge/expertise/legitimacy, the patient’s trust in her/his own senses and judgment, the doctor’s trust in his/her own knowledge, the doctor’s trust in the patient as narrator, the doctor’s trust in the consultation to uncover signs that will assist in diagnosis, and trust in scientific and medical knowledge as an arbiter of truth (191-192).  Trust reappears in these and other forms throughout the text, although all seven of these are apparent in her in-depth study of Olivieri (267-269 deal directly with trust).


Trust, for Code, is essential for epistemic responsibility.  She ties knowledge intimately to the spaces and situations from which it arises; indeed, she contends they cannot be isolated from the “social-political-cultural-ecological situations” (192).  For her, responsible advocacy relies on “trust, sensitivity, and integrity” (196).  Trust becomes a central component for knowledge-making, advocacy, and relationships.  Determining when to trust relies in great part in assessing who, when, and where we encounter knowledge.  Who, when, and where the knowledge is created (and perhaps we should add “for whom?”) is just as crucial (267).  Such trust relies on evaluating credibility of the knowledge, the knower, and the knowledge-generating process (p. 268), which all rely upon rhetorical constructions of credibility. 


Code suggests that trust and responsibility are central to her project—they relate to how the “complexity of establishing the public epistemic status and trustworthiness of knowers” carries power.  By introducing humility and honesty (271) into the equation, Code encourages a responsible epistemology that relies upon trust and collaboration.  She maintains that “Responsible, thoughtful practice mitigates against an epistemic chaos where trust could never be rational and where acknowledgement could rarely be justly claimed or conferred” (ix).  Trust is central to epistemic authority’s existence; Code insists that people are “responsible for what and how they know” and they must honor this responsibility to engender the public’s trust (ix).


Trust is central to epistemology in ecological thinking, and we have seen trust as important in several of the other books, as with yearning to be with others, group formation and identity mobilization, and a re-valuation of belief.  Trust is important for maintaining relationships, knowledge, and politics. 


To discuss: What are some of the other ways we see trust manifest in this argument and the others we’ve read?  What are some of the ways we can apply Code’s emphasis on trust and epistemic responsibility to our own research?  What about our teaching (which is remarkably akin to doctor/patient knowledge collaboration)?


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