Brief summary of some 2022 papers

Before the year 2022 ends, here is a brief summary of several articles recently published:

  1. In “Self-Trust and Critical Thinking Online: A Relational Account“, written together with Samantha Copeland, we zoom in on the ideal of critical thinking and unpack it in order to see, specifically, whether it can provide enough epistemic agency so that users endowed with it can break free from enclosed communities on social media. We criticise some assumptions embedded in the ideal of critical thinking online and, instead, we propose that a better way to understand the virtuous behaviour at hand is as critical engagement, namely a mutual cultivation of critical skills among the members of an epistemic bubble. We use relational trust to build an account of self-trust and intellectual autonomy that can be then used to describe critical engagement.
    We should not ask social media users to be “more critical”, rather, we should look at the opportunities that social media users have had to critically engage, opportunities afforded by their communities online and by the design of platforms. Without a history of critical engagement, it’s hard to build on your own skills for critical thinking and intellectual autonomy.
  2. In “How to Do Things with Information Online. A Conceptual Framework for Evaluating Social Networking Platforms as Epistemic Environments” I take up the wider issue of informational skills that an epistemic agent needs to navigate and flourish in the online worlds. When we look at the epistemology of online social environments, we do not usually discuss the skills that these environments help build for their users. There is de-skilling as well as up-skilling possible, through the habits that the platforms give rise to. Skilled actionsFootnote6 with information are central for exercising epistemic agency in a particular environment because these require less effort to make. It is undoubtedly possible to act as an epistemic agent without being skilled, e.g. by having luck, in the process of learning, or by sheer effort. Still, these isolated unskilled actions cannot explain the overall workings of the epistemic environment. However, with SN platforms, we are dealing with a particularly hyper-dynamic environment, an environment that adapts its content by predicting users’ preferences and this is problematic from a skills perspective. Any informational environment that aims to foster epistemic agency should allow its users to become aware when their actions are epistemically relevant, such that they can choose whether to use their informational skills or not. An additional condition would be that users should have more epistemic agency than the artificial agents in the environment because they get to use their skills in adapting to the environment and not, instead, have the environment adapt to them. These demands can be operationalised as follows into three conditions that need to be fulfilled by the environment: (a) the users need to be afforded a range of skilled actions; (b) users need to be sensitive to the possibility of using their skills; (c) the habits built when adapting to the platform should not undermine the user’s skills.
  3. In “Learning to Reframe Problems Through Moral Sensitivity and Critical Thinking in Environmental Ethics for Engineers” co-authored with Andrea Gammon as the main author, we discuss some pedagogical aims and methods when trying to teach environmental ethics to engineering students. How should we teach environmental ethics to engineering students? We argue that one key aspect such teaching should address is the tendency of engineers towards technical framing of (social) problems. Drawing then on engineering ethics pedagogy we propose that the competencies of moral sensitivity and critical thinking can be developed to help engineering students with problem (re)framing. We conclude with an example from our teaching that operationalizes these competencies.

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