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The Public Understanding of What? Laypersons’ Epistemic Needs, the Division of Cognitive Labor, and the Demarcation of Science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


What must laypersons understand about science to allow them to make sound decisions on science-related issues? Relying on recent developments in social epistemology, this article argues that scientific education should have the goal not of bringing laypersons’ understanding of science closer to that of expert insiders but rather of cultivating the kind of competence characteristic of “competent outsiders.” Moreover, it argues that philosophers of science have an important role to play in attempts to promote this kind of understanding but that, to successfully fulfill this role, they will have to approach central questions in the field differently.

Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Work on this article was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant 714/12). For helpful comments, I am grateful to participants and audiences at the PSA 2016 symposium “The Public Understanding of Science: Philosophical and Empirical Approaches” and to Boaz Miller, Mathew Slater, and two anonymous referees.


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