When one looks at the extensive literature on collectivity in philosophy, it may seem that every item in the family of collective states, traits and entities has been examined, but one crucial state has largely been left out of focus: collective intellectual self-trust. This is surprising because collective intellectual self-trust is a candidate for being a condition of joint intention and joint action, as well as a condition of common knowledge, collective inquiry and related collective epistemic behavior. For example, one might think that if a group does not have collective intellectual self-trust, they cannot form and maintain shared beliefs. In fact, one explanation for why we have previously overlooked collective intellectual self-trust may be that it is so foundational in all these processes and thus appears to be self-evident.
In this article I take first steps in an epistemology of collective intellectual self-trust that aim to provide the ground for further work on how collective intellectual self-trust functions in groups. First, I explicate collective intellectual self-trust in groups. And, ultimately, I work towards an understanding of the role of collective intellectual self-trust in epistemically pernicious groups and epistemically beneficial groups: they have warranted or unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust. The build-up is as follows: I start with a short overview of intellectual self-trust (Section 2), then I introduce what kinds of groups are capable of having collective intellectual self-trust (Section 3). Against this background I develop my conception of collective intellectual self-trust (Sections 4 to 7). Then I turn to the differences between warranted and unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust and their roles in groups (Section 8). I close by discussing an objection about how groups can even acquire collective intellectual self-trust (Section 9).
2. Individual Intellectual Self-Trust
In the philosophical literature intellectual self-trust appears either under the name that I have been using and will continue to use, intellectual self-trust, or also under the name epistemic self-trust. The phenomenon that both terms refer to is trust in one’s cognitive and/or epistemic capacities as well as in their products. Regarding the distribution and use of the two terms in philosophical literature, I suggest the following rule of thumb. Discussions of intellectual self-trust are mainly found in feminist philosophy and epistemology that is influenced by feminist philosophy, for example, Jones (2012), McLeod (2002). Contributions on intellectual self-trust connect such self-trust with social power and life in unjust societies. In contrast, discussions of epistemic self-trust are mainly within epistemology, including virtue epistemology, for example, Lehrer (1997), Zagzebski (2012; 2014), Fricker (2016). These discussions do not include issues such as social power or injustice but mainly focus on the question of whether and how epistemic subjects are justified in relying on and trusting their cognitive capacities and their epistemic deliverances, despite persistent skeptical worries and our inability to prove the reliability of our cognitive capacities.1 I use the term intellectual self-trust in this article because it enables me to include social and political considerations of intellectual self-trust.
What is individual intellectual self-trust? Intellectual self-trust is an optimistic, affective, cognitive self-reflective stance that a subject takes toward her cognitive capacities, experiences, beliefs and thoughts (El Kassar 2020). Intellectual self-trust can be manifested cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally. A person’s intellectual self-trust thus is manifest (1) in her belief that her cognitive capacities are working properly; (2) in a feeling of trust towards her cognitive capacities; and (3) in her treating her cognitive capacities as trustworthy and acting accordingly (El Kassar 2020: 16–17).2
This does not mean that the subject who has intellectual self-trust never experiences self-doubt or never questions herself or never is unsettled by criticism. The intellectually self-trusting subject is a fallible and vulnerable subject, but she is able to stop the questions and the criticism, and she is able to trust and develop her beliefs and conclusions based on her intellectual self-trust and the support of other subjects (cf. Jones 2012: 244). I will argue that there is a parallel between individual and collective intellectual self-trust: collective intellectual self-trust does the same for epistemic actions and processes of groups and collectives as individual intellectual self-trust does for individual epistemic contexts. It stops (self-)criticism; and it allows the group to trust their epistemic capacities and their deliverances and form new beliefs on that basis. This is one of the underlying claims of this article on collective intellectual self-trust. Note that this does not imply that intellectual self-trust is always appropriate. Intellectual self-trust is warranted or unwarranted, it can be inflated or deflated. I return to these distinctions below.
How is (individual) intellectual self-trust acquired? Intellectual self-trust is developed, fostered and maintained by support from other people (cf. McLeod 2002; Jones 2012; Congdon 2021).3 Karen Jones observes that
[d]evelopmentally, our intellectual self-trust is created interactively: we come to have trust in our cognitive abilities as their reliability is confirmed by their results being seconded by trusted figures, whether parents, teachers, or peers. As adults, such seconding scaffolds our cognitive ability and reinforces our self-trust—or not. (Jones 2012: 245)
Groups can also be crucial for sustaining an individual’s intellectual self-trust. They can create and provide environments in which subjects can experience trust and be self-trusting, for example, in consciousness-raising groups, civil rights groups, self-help groups. But in addition, groups and collectives themselves can have collective intellectual self-trust. Let me emphasize that not every group qua group has intellectual self-trust, only groups with a number of specific characteristics can have collective intellectual self-trust. One of the aims of this article is to spell out the characteristics of groups that have collective intellectual self-trust as well as the conditions of collective intellectual self-trust. Groups can have warranted or unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust and I will carve out which features distinguish these groups with different types of collective intellectual self-trust. Warranted and unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust, additionally, come in degrees. And just like for individual intellectual self-trust there is adequate, excessive and deflated intellectual self-trust. Unwarranted high intellectual self-trust is excessive or inflated. Unwarranted low intellectual self-trust is deflated.4
In the next sections I develop my conception of collective intellectual self-trust by first distinguishing groups that are capable of having collective intellectual self-trust and then describing the conditions and constituents of collective intellectual self-trust.
3. Groups that Can Have Collective Intellectual Self-Trust
Collective intellectual self-trust is a disposition of groups. Groups that have collective intellectual self-trust can be scientific teams, research teams, fans of a football club, political working groups, self-help groups, students at a particular school, orchestras, ensembles, families, etc. But not all such groups have collective intellectual self-trust. For example, a group of people waiting for the bus who, unbeknownst to them, are all avid fans of the same football club do not yet constitute a group that can have collective intellectual self-trust.5 What matters for groups who are capable of having collective intellectual self-trust are particular commitments and internal structures. I use Raimo Tuomela’s distinction of different I-mode and we-mode groups (2013) as adapted by Mikko Salmela and Michiru Nagatsu (2016) to distinguish three basic types of group that are capable of having collective intellectual self-trust: weakly collective groups, moderately collective groups and strongly collective groups. This distinction is the basis for further constitutive components of collective intellectual self-trust. What kind of collective intellectual self-trust a group has partly depends on what type of group it is.
Weakly collective groups are, for example, self-help groups or economic sharing groups. The group members individually have the same goal, the goals overlap (Salmela & Nagatsu 2016: 40), but they do not share these goals collectively. The Facebook group “Long Covid Support” in 2021 was a weakly collective group since the members were all individually interested in getting the long-term effects of a COVID-19 infection recognized, but “they [didn’t] have a clear set of shared goals, or a plan to achieve them” (Ashton 2021, my adaptation). There is no collective commitment.
Moderately collective groups are, for example, found among fan groups or social movements. They share one concern—unlike weakly collective groups that only have overlapping concerns—but they are merely privately committed to the concern. There is no implicit or explicit joint commitment. This also entails that group members can individually decide to leave a moderately collective group and the other members cannot do anything about that. “Critical Mass”, a monthly bike tour of cyclists, is such a moderately collective group. Critical Mass Zurich meets every last Friday evening of the month and the members ride their bikes through the city. Any cyclist can join the tour. Such meetings have been taking place in a number of big cities throughout the world since 1992. The aim is to raise awareness of the large numbers of cyclists that are also participants of the traffic on the streets but do not receive nearly as much attention as the car drivers. The cyclists who take part in the tour all privately have the same concern—raise awareness of cyclists in the everyday traffic—and they believe that all others who join the tour on Friday evening also have the same concern. But they are not collectively committed to this concern. There is no implicit or explicit joint commitment. Any member of Critical Mass can independently decide to change their commitment to the concern, there is nothing in the moderately collective group that can stop her from that. Loose fan groups as well as “Fridays for future”, an international movement of young people who organize demonstrations to call for actions against climate change, are other such moderately collective group which have members privately committed to one shared concern.
The shared concerns of a group also feature in the group’s ethos, terminology introduced by Tuomela to cover the “common goals, beliefs, standards, norms, practices, constraints, history, etc.” (2013: 57) of a group. The ethos of a group shapes the group reasons of the group, that is, the reasons that exist for group members qua group members.6
Strongly collective groups have a shared concern and are implicitly or explicitly collectively committed to the shared concern. Organized fan groups, religious groups, music bands, families can be strongly collective groups (cf. Salmela & Nagatsu 2016: 38). This strong commitment equips the group members with group reasons that are shaped by the shared concern.7 Strongly collective groups are also subject to a collectivity condition; the group members are bound together by their group goal: it is impossible that the goal is met only for some group members. Either all of them succeed or none of them succeeds. This is particularly clear for sports teams in a contest, but it also makes sense for a string quartet; it is not possible that only two of the four musicians can succeed in performing this-and-that string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Salmela emphasizes that the three types of groups most probably form a continuum rather than a distinct set of either-or-options (2012), so it is not much of a surprise that some groups might be a mixture of forms of collectivity. In the present context all that matters is that these three types of collectives are capable of having collective intellectual self-trust. But not all groups of these types do have collective intellectual self-trust, nor do they all have collective intellectual self-trust to the same degree. Whether a group does have collective intellectual self-trust is largely a contingent matter. But we can still find necessary features that all groups that have collective intellectual self-trust manifest by examining collective intellectual self-trust in different groups.
Before I turn to the question of what collective intellectual self-trust consists in, let me briefly note two observations about the groups that can have collective intellectual self-trust. First, my claims are not restricted to epistemic groups. Epistemic groups are groups that explicitly pursue epistemic projects, wanting to find things out, for example, scientific research groups, or also groups that engage in collective epistemic activity and are in collective epistemic states, such as a group that knows that p.8 Such epistemic issues are most obviously connected to intellectual self-trust, but groups that have collective intellectual self-trust are not necessarily epistemic groups. Second, note that the experiences, the conditions, the biographies etc. of the group members do not have to be strictly identical for the community to be founded, nor for it to have collective intellectual self-trust. Shared experiences may have significant impact on whether the group is weakly, moderately or strongly collective. And shared experiences can make the difference between weakly collective groups that have some collective intellectual self-trust and other such groups that do not have collective intellectual self-trust. But shared experiences are not strictly necessary for having collective intellectual self-trust. Some—albeit, significant—overlap is enough to get things going (cf. Salmela & Nagatsu 2016: 37).9
4. Collective Intellectual Self-Trust: The Basics
What does collective intellectual self-trust consist in? How does it reveal itself? Collective intellectual self-trust consists in relying on, trusting the cognitive abilities, the epistemic products—perceptions, beliefs, thoughts, questions—of the group and the group members—depending on the degree of collectivity of the group. It is an optimistic stance towards the intellectual abilities of one’s group, their exercises as well as their products. Just like individual intellectual self-trust, it has a cognitive, a behavioral and an affective component. The group members (1) believe that they can trust the cognitive abilities and epistemic products of the group and the group members, they (2) act in such ways that manifest their trust in the cognitive abilities and products of the group and its members, and they (3) have a feeling of trust in the epistemic products and abilities of the group and its members. For example, a member of a strongly collective group such as a family will trust the epistemic report about an incident by another family member, even if she herself has not seen the event. Or a member of the ultra fans of a football club, another strongly collective group, will trust the belief of a fellow ultra fan that the striker of their team was fouled by the defender of the other team, even if she herself did not see the foul. And if the two see the same event, they will likely see it the same way—That was a foul!—If their views diverge, they can easily come to an agreement. This is because they can rely on fundamental shared assumptions and on the cognitive capacities of the other group member. In addition, they have so-called group reasons. I turn to this notion in the next section in further spelling out the conditions of collective intellectual self-trust.
Collective intellectual self-trust, like individual intellectual self-trust, is domain-specific (cf. Jones 2012), so for all groups with collective intellectual self-trust there are specific domains in which their collective intellectual self-trust applies. Yet, in most examples I won’t specify the domains of the group’s collective intellectual self-trust because they are not required for spelling out the levels and types of collective intellectual self-trust, and instead tend to complicate the picture.
The above first part of the conception of collective intellectual self-trust is largely parallel to individual intellectual self-trust, but in addition to the three components that it shares with individual intellectual self-trust, collective intellectual self-trust has two components that are unique to it: mutual recognition and mutual awareness.10 These two mutuality components ground the collectivity and cohesion of collective intellectual self-trust. A group whose intellectual self-trust merely consists in the aggregate of the members’ individual intellectual self-trust does not meet these mutuality components and it does not have collective intellectual self-trust. A group with collective intellectual self-trust is more than an aggregate of the members’ individual intellectual self-trust since, in addition, there is also shared collective intellectual self-trust and this collective intellectual self-trust is co-constituted by mutual recognition and mutual awareness of the collective intellectual self-trust of the group (in addition to the behavioral, affective, cognitive components).
Mutual recognition means that the group members must recognize each other as group members. Such recognition can consist in merely acknowledging that the other person is a member of the same group or it can be displayed as love, esteem or respect (cf. Honneth 1994; 1996; Congdon 2019).11 And mutual awareness means that the members of the group are mutually aware of the joint intellectual self-trust that the group members have. This is awareness of the collective intellectual self-trust, not awareness of the other members of the group.12 Their awareness may consist in an awareness of the cognitive, behavioral or affective components of the collective intellectual self-trust or it may be an awareness of the mutual recognition. Yet, the members do not have to be explicitly aware of their intellectual self-trust; in general, it is enough that they are dispositionally aware of it. For example, if a group member considers the intellectual self-trust of their group, they may become aware that the other members and they themselves have a feeling of trust for the epistemic deliverances of the group.
There can be collective intellectual self-trust for strongly, moderately and weakly collective groups in addition to a subject’s individual intellectual self-trust. And there is more enabling structure under their mutual recognition and mutual awareness as well as under the cognitive, behavioral and affective component of collective intellectual self-trust. Moderately and strongly collective groups with collective intellectual self-trust also have fundamentally shared assumptions and a “shared heightened consciousness” (McHugh 2017: 275). I introduce the case of the “LoCI and Wittenberg University Writing Group”, as presented in McHugh (2017), to explicate a shared heightened consciousness as a central constituent of collective intellectual self-trust. Moreover, I suggest that work on collective emotions is instructive of low-level processes that enable and shape collective intellectual self-trust.
5. Shared Heightened Consciousness in Collective Intellectual Self-Trust
The “LoCI and Wittenberg University Writing Group” is constituted by inmates of London Correctional Institution (LoCI) and philosophers of Wittenberg University and in their meetings they develop an epistemology of incarceration. The epistemology of incarceration argues that incarcerated prisoners can develop a “subversive lucidity” (McHugh 2017: 275) that sees through the (carceral) system, society inside and outside of the prison, and their position in society (McHugh 2017). The incarcerated members of the group have experienced injustices—social and epistemic—throughout their lives and the writing group is their place to reflect and resist these injustices. According to McHugh, the incarcerated members can rely on the others’ perceptions, their cognitive capacities, because the group has been brought together by “pertinent conditions and social heritages, systems of education/experience” (McHugh 2017: 273). She observes that the members of this epistemic community have developed “a shared heightened consciousness” (McHugh 2017: 275). This “shared heightened consciousness”
is the result of ‘the prisoner’s internal and internalized perception of self as both once free and now incarcerated; the bureaucratic, historical, and social structure of the prison; and prisoner’s knowledge of the deeply entrenched perceptions, attitudes and practices of people and institutions on the outside’ ([LoCI and Wittenberg University Writing Group 2016:] 11). (McHugh 2017: 275, my addition)
Understanding what a “shared heightened consciousness” is, is crucial for getting at collective intellectual self-trust. It is key to understanding how collective intellectual self-trust is created and maintained as well as for explaining different kinds of collective intellectual self-trust (warranted and unwarranted) and different degrees of collective intellectual self-trust (thin, medium, robust). Weakly, moderately and strongly collective groups with collective intellectual self-trust all have a shared heightened consciousness, but their consciousness differs regarding its scope, depth and intensity. These differences also affect their collective intellectual self-trust.13 The prison writing group has a shared heightened consciousness regarding particular issues that are of concern to the group, that is, it is heightened to the effects of incarceration on human beings, the conditions of incarceration, the role of society, education, injustice in the lives of those who are incarcerated. In general, the shared concern of the group determines the group’s shared heightened consciousness. For example, ultra football fans have a shared heightened consciousness regarding all states of their football club, players’ performances, managerial decision, events of the game, other rival football clubs, etc. They determine the inner and outer boundaries of being an ultra, one might say.
Shared concerns are topics, persons, objects, states that an individual or group cares about. Group members may care about individual concerns and/or shared concerns. These concerns are shared either by private commitment—in moderately collective groups—or by collective commitment—in strongly collective groups. They can also merely overlap, as in weakly collective groups. How the concerns are shared matters for the constitution (scope, depth, intensity) of the shared heightened consciousness of the group. The shared concern of a family that constitutes a strongly collective group—and this does not hold for all families qua family—may be the wellbeing of the family members, of the family as a whole, the success of their everyday lives. Their concerns do not merely overlap but are interdependent and intersubjectively shared. Similarly, the shared concerns of the ultra fans are the successes of their football club, friendship with other fans, but also entertainment, singing team songs, fighting with other football fans. Some ultras also have shared political concerns, cf. the dispute about freedom of speech in the German football league (Ulrich 2020). Since the concerns in these groups are so strongly connected, their shared heightened consciousness is also stronger and more intense than in groups with merely privately shared concerns or no shared concerns at all.
The shared heightened consciousness is also manifest in a shared perspective on and unique awareness of those objects, persons and issues that are of concern to the group. Such an awareness also includes shared recognitional capacities and shared knowledge. The group’s heightened consciousness is thus constituted by cognitive capacities and characteristics of the group and its members as well as by salient objects. This shared heightened consciousness and its constituents are the basis for group members seeing things in the same way, understanding what a certain statement means, seeing through situations in the way of the group, etc.14
Cassandra Byer Harvin relates a scene that serves to illustrate the constitutive role of shared heightened consciousness, including recognitional capacities of the group, for collective intellectual self-trust:
In front of a computer in the public library, I try mightily to meet a writing deadline. But being incurably gregarious, I stop to listen to a white woman, early-50s-looking, introduce herself as a writer and ask what I am working on. Putting it simply, I say, “Raising black sons in this society.” “How is that any different from raising white sons?” she replies without taking time to blink, her tone making clear that she just knows I am making something out of nothing. (Harvin 1996: 16)
Another Black parent who is aware of the issues parents face in raising a Black son in the USA is able to immediately understand what the question of the white woman means to Harvin.15 The other member of the group will hear the question, recognize it as an ignorant question, understand and feel the epistemic injustices that are implicated in the question. Harvin won’t have to explain to her. This is because they have a shared heightened consciousness and shared recognitional capacities and further shared intellectual capacities. What I call the “intellectual capacities of a group” are, for example, fine-grained recognitional capacities for particular objects or scenes; similar to a painter’s recognitional capacities for colors that are much more nuanced than those of non-painters. The group and its members can perceive and understand objects, statements, concepts, scenes in a particular way that is only indirectly available to people who are not members of the relevant group. Different groups may have overlap between their recognitional capacities and other features of their respective shared heightened consciousness, making coalitions, alliances and mutual understanding easier.
So far, I have focused on the perceptual facet of the shared heightened consciousness, but it can also be reflected and manifested in shared reasons. Once a group has shared concerns, they can also have group reasons (Tuomela 2013: 38–40) that motivate their actions and beliefs. This is particularly natural in the case of strongly collective groups. According to Tuomela, the ethos of the group shapes the group reasons. These group reasons are shared in a specific sense, they are “intersubjectively shared”, that is, these reasons are created by the intersubjective context of action and interaction which the group realizes (cf. Wingert 1993: 249–52). These reasons are intersubjectively shared in the sense that I can only have these reasons if the other members of the group also share and accept these reasons. The reasons are created by the group, one might say. And one can only have these reasons if one is a member of the group. Group reasons are reasons for members of groups that have a we-mode, viz. groups that are moderately or strongly collective. These group reasons are not simply reducible to individual shared reasons of the group members, and that is why weakly collective groups do not have group reasons.16 Their reasons are reducible to individual shared reasons, but they merely overlap and are not jointly shared.
Note that the intellectual capacities are distributed and thus shared among members of the group, rather than one group consciousness with one body that has special intellectual capacities. The capacities may evolve together and be practiced together, and they may be based on shared experiences, but that does not require for the capacities to be those of a proper group consciousness. They are instantiated in the members of the group. And they co-constitute the group’s collective intellectual self-trust. The same holds for the shared heightened consciousness; it is not the same as an entity that one might call group consciousness. The shared consciousness is common between the members of the group, and it is in the consciousnesses of the individuals that constitute the group (as group members) rather than in a group consciousness. And even though the capacities and the shared heightened consciousness may be more stable if they were acquired together and are continually practiced together, this does not result in any particular demands on the capacities and the shared consciousness.17
This conception of collective intellectual self-trust thus is neither summative nor non-summative (cf., e.g., Lackey 2014). Collective intellectual self-trust of a group is a stance that the group takes towards the group’s intellectual capacities and their deliverances. But this stance is constituted by the intellectual capacities of the individuals that form the group, for example, their shared recognitional capacities, and their epistemic deliverances.18
6. High- and Low-Level Constituents of Collective Intellectual Self-Trust
Psychological research reveals that there are further processes that underlie collective intellectual self-trust in addition to shared heightened consciousness and group reasons. They are low-level constituents of collective intellectual self-trust. So called synchronization processes such as joint attention, joint perception, entrainment (the synchronization of movements of individuals), imitation, facial mimicry and motor mimicry, neural mirroring are constitutive of and conditions for a subject being able to exercise their cognitive capacities in collective contexts.19 These low-level processes are causal conditions of collective intellectual self-trust because they enable the coordination etc. required for collective intellectual self-trust. There is no collective intellectual self-trust without such low-level processes. Consequently, synchronization processes can intensify the connections between the group members and their collective intellectual self-trust.20
In addition to low-level processes, there are high-level processes that are constitutive of group membership and collective intellectual self-trust, for example, joining the group, participating in meetings and rituals of the group, being recognized as a member of the group, recognizing other members, realizing the shared concerns of the group. For example, for ultra football fans such high-level processes are cheering for the team, attending games of the team, wearing particular clothes, talking to other ultras, self-identifying as an ultra, etc.
Finally, another word on the concerns that groups with collective intellectual self-trust share. These concerns are not always easily identified from an external perspective; more visible shared concerns may obscure other equally salient concerns. For example, political concerns of groups may be hidden behind other concerns. The case of the shared concerns of the Beyhive, the group of ardent fans of the singer Beyoncé, is particularly illustrative. The group members adore Beyoncé and are notorious for bullying people who they take to be treating Beyoncé inappropriately. In 2019, Nicole Curran, the wife of the owner of the basketball team “Golden State Warriors”, was targeted on social media after she was seen whispering to her guests Beyoncé and Jay-Z sitting in the first row at a basketball game and Beyoncé’s mimics seemed to indicate that she was unhappy about something that Curran said or did. The Beyhive saw the scene, knew how to see it as the Beyhive, how to read it—Beyoncé is unhappy with Curran’s behavior—and how to react to it—by bullying Curran on social media.21 They have a heightened shared consciousness regarding all matters concerning Beyoncé. This shared consciousness induces their actions. At first glance there is not more to their shared concern than all matters related to Beyoncé’s wellbeing, success, music, happiness etc. But the collective intellectual self-trust of the Beyhive is not thus restricted to personal matters surrounding Beyoncé. Kuba Shand-Baptiste, who calls herself a Beyoncé superfan, points to another dimension of the Beyhive’s concerns.
[W]hat lies at the heart of [the fans’] protectiveness is an appreciation of Beyoncé’s efforts to, consciously or not, give black women a sense of freedom. Just as Beyoncé takes up space, in music, film, fashion, art and, in some respects, politics, she gives us permission to do the same, entirely on our own terms. (Shand-Baptiste 2018, my addition)
The group thus also shares the concern of giving Black women a voice, giving them freedom of action and freedom of speech. These political concerns are implicitly or explicitly endorsed by the Beyhive and they are manifest in the perspectives and objects that constitute the shared heightened consciousness of the group.
The group members have a shared heightened consciousness that co-constitutes their collective intellectual self-trust. And yet we cannot simply say that collective intellectual self-trust is the aggregate of individual intellectual self-trust of the members of the group. Collective intellectual self-trust is trust in the intellectual capacities and deliverances of one’s group and in those of the members of one’s group. That means that the collective is both self-trusting and at the same time the object of this self-trust. The collective can be intellectually self-trusting by manifesting particular practices, for example, prima facie relying on their observations regarding their shared concerns, prima facie rejecting criticism of their beliefs from other groups.22
7. Degrees of Collective Intellectual Self-Trust
With all components of collective intellectual self-trust in view, we can also see how collective intellectual self-trust is a matter of degree and how not all groups that are structurally equipped for having collective intellectual self-trust really do have collective intellectual self-trust. For example, some weakly collective groups have mutual recognition of the other members as members of the collective and they have weak mutual awareness of a joint collective intellectual self-trust. Think again of the Long Covid Support Facebook group as described in Ashton (2021). The members trusted other members’ statements about their experiences with Long Covid because they were members of the Long Covid Support Facebook group. But their collective intellectual self-trust was thin because it was mainly an aggregate of the members’ trust in the individuals that constitute the group. Their mutual awareness was weak because the members only had the same individual concerns but no shared concerns.23 Other weakly collective groups may have no collective intellectual self-trust at all. Think of a cycling group that meets every week to go cycling. They do not talk about much when they meet or while cycling; the head of the group plans the weekly route and informs the members about the route before the meeting. This group plausibly has trust in the planning capacities of the head of the group, but they don’t have any collective intellectual self-trust, none of the five components is present. So, merely being a group is not enough for having collective intellectual self-trust.
Moderately collective groups that have collective intellectual self-trust can build their collective intellectual self-trust on the basis of their fundamental shared assumptions. If they have such collective intellectual self-trust, they are aware of this collective intellectual self-trust. They thus manifest the mutual awareness component of collective intellectual self-trust. They also mutually recognize the other members as members of the collective. But again, there may be varying degrees of collective intellectual self-trust in different moderately collective groups, depending on their shared assumptions and concerns. A Critical Mass Group shares the concern of raising awareness of cyclists as participants of everyday traffic, and other shared concerns that members might have, for example, being active in the climate movement, are merely tangential. In addition, the main shared concern is merely individually shared. Their one shared concern that is merely individually shared probably does not suffice for grounding collective intellectual self-trust.
One may object that the group members of a particular Critical Mass group do have some collective intellectual self-trust. After all, they might trust other members’ reports about bike-friendly changes on a particular street because they are regular members of Critical Mass and because they have a shared heightened consciousness regarding the inclusion of cyclers in street traffic. But as with the Long Covid Support Facebook group, this trust would not be trust in the group but trust in the capacities and report of a group member. The group itself would only play a minor role in grounding this trust; it has brought the group members together thus grounding the trust in the reporting individual. But the basis for the trust in the other person’s report is not collective intellectual self-trust in Critical Mass.24 Some participants of the moderately collective “Fridays for future” movement may be said to develop what one may call medium collective intellectual self-trust regarding all things relating to climate change action. They are individually committed to a shared concern, but this concern is fairly broad—unlike raising awareness of cyclers in street traffic, climate change activism plausibly amounts to taking a worldview. The members have collective trust in the group’s intellectual capacities and its beliefs about all matters related to climate change. These examples also highlight that collective intellectual self-trust (like individual intellectual self-trust) is domain-specific, it does not simply generalize.25
Strongly collective groups that have collective intellectual self-trust mutually recognize each other and are mutually aware of collective intellectual self-trust that comes with their having fundamental shared assumption and having collectively committed to these assumptions and the concerns of the collective. Such groups can have robust collective intellectual self-trust in the sense that their collective intellectual self-trust consists in a strongly shared heightened consciousness—for example, same recognitional capacities, a large number of shared beliefs—, as well as reliably functioning low-level and high-level processes of collective intellectual self-trust—for example, synchronization processes—and robust mutual awareness of their collective intellectual self-trust and mutual recognition. Group reasons may also provide a solid basis for robust collective intellectual self-trust.
Such robust collective intellectual self-trust may also entail strong distrust of other groups. The members of Querdenken, a movement in Germany and Austria that has, since the beginning of the global pandemic, disputed the reality of COVID-19 and rejected any measures against the pandemic, have robust collective intellectual self-trust (cf., e.g., Sauerbrey 2020).26 They claim to know how to see all things related to COVID-19, declaring that it is a hoax or merely a flu, and they regard reports by what they call ‘mainstream media’ as lies. They regard people who are not part of Querdenken as victims of deception who have not yet recognized the reality of things (cf., e.g., Hornuff 2020). Most attempts at talking with members of Querdenken fail either because they dispute most if not all statements of a non-member or because they reject any conversations about COVID-19 with non-members. This is the strong distrust of non-members that robust collective intellectual self-trust may breed.27 But let me emphasize that not all robust collective intellectual self-trust comes with such robust distrust. The difference lies in whether the group’s robust collective intellectual self-trust is warranted or not, the final important characteristic of collective intellectual self-trust.
8. Warranted and Unwarranted Collective Intellectual Self-Trust
As the case of Querdenken, ultras, white supremacists and other groups with collective intellectual self-trust indicates, collective intellectual self-trust and a shared consciousness are not necessarily epistemically—nor morally—valuable (cf. El Kassar 2022). The German ultra football fans beating up Daniel Nivel, a French police man, during the 1998 football world cup might have had collective intellectual self-trust, but they used it to coordinate horribly violent and destructive behavior. The basis for this group’s perception, beliefs and actions also lies in their collective intellectual self-trust. Or think of the insurrection on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 when a mob stormed the Capitol because they wanted to fight for Donald Trump getting another term as the US president. Trump and his allies told Trump’s supporters that they should stop the count of the electoral college vote, but the supporters themselves also knew how to see things in the Capitol. They believed Trump’s lies—including his previous claims about how things are in the USA and in the world—and saw the actions of politicians and media after the election and in the run-up to the count of the electoral college vote as confirmation of their own collective perception and beliefs.28 They had trust in the group’s perception, and they had trust in their agreed reaction to such instances: demonstrations, threats, hate speech, violence, destruction. The group and the members believe everything that the group and the members say—about their specific shared concerns—because they have collective intellectual self-trust.
Thus, a group with collective intellectual self-trust may also perceive things wrongly, hold false beliefs and be willfully ignorant. They may be “epistemically pernicious” groups (Boyd 2019); with “belief forming and updating methods … [that] tend to lead to [the] members having false and/or unwarranted beliefs” (Boyd 2019: 64). Group(s) of climate change deniers, white supremacists, or incels, the group of ‘involuntary celibates’ who develop aggressive hatred against women because they do not give them the sexual contacts that the men think they deserve29 have an inflated collective intellectual self-trust. These groups have unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust and their collective intellectual self-trust is also inflated.
Such unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust can be found in moderately collective and strongly collective groups; but it may be more likely and more persistent in strongly collective groups because the groups’ high degree of collectivity may be conducive to the faulty and unwarranted inflation of their collective intellectual self-trust and it may avert checks on their collective intellectual self-trust. Note also that there are crucial differences between groups with an inflated, unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust. Not all of them behave violently or destructively. Not all instances of an inflated collective intellectual self-trust are pernicious.
What is the difference between unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust and warranted collective intellectual self-trust? The first difference becomes visible in a consequentialist framework. Warranted collective intellectual self-trust leads to epistemic goods. Such epistemic goods may be, for example, understanding, true belief, epistemic virtues, epistemic agency, doing justice to other epistemic subjects.30 Warranted collective intellectual self-trust is also conducive to practical goals, for example, flourishing, friendship, justice, since it enables meaningful relationships within the group. In contrast, unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust takes away from epistemic goods, creates obstacles in the pursuit of epistemic goods, fosters epistemic vices. Think of the mob storming the Capitol whose collective intellectual self-trust obstructs their pursuit of true belief, understanding, epistemic justice, etc. And even though it also encourages relationships within the group, these relationships are distinctly different from those of groups with warranted collective intellectual self-trust. They appear to be meaningful from their perspective, but they come with a manifest distrust of the perception, beliefs and testimony of other groups. Such relationships do not contribute to an individual’s well-being—assuming that dislike and hatred are not conducive to an individual’s well-being.31
The second difference is in the material or also in the evidence of the respective type of collective intellectual self-trust. Unwarranted intellectual self-trust is based on false assumptions, lies, motivated reasoning, willful ignorance and the like.32 Warranted collective intellectual self-trust does not have a flawed basis; it may contain false beliefs, but these are not load-bearing walls for the group’s epistemic actions and their collective intellectual self-trust. In addition, warranted collective intellectual self-trust is well-suited for correcting false beliefs the group might have since they are equipped for getting at true belief, etc. They have instruments for correction, room for voicing dissent, room for exchange.33 Groups with warranted collective intellectual self-trust are beneficial epistemic groups and groups with unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust are epistemically pernicious groups.34
Querdenken, the group of COVID-19 deniers and skeptics in Germany and Austria, shows all the signs of unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust: their movement is mostly built on false assumptions and lies about the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to deal with it. In addition, their inflated collective intellectual self-trust is accompanied by a strong distrust of non-members. Their collective intellectual self-trust is stable enough to stomach, ignore, accommodate obvious contradictions and unfulfilled prophecies. QAnon is another obvious example. Note that unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust does not have to go with conspiracy theories, but, of course, they are natural partners.35
For these clear-cut cases it is relatively easy to determine whether they are cases of warranted or unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust. But what about less extreme cases? When is collective intellectual self-trust warranted, when is it unwarranted? I can only offer a brief sketch of an answer to this complex issue in this article. Let’s look at a group of football fans who have collective intellectual self-trust. Whether or not it is warranted also depends on the quality of their epistemic performances, whether they collectively produce epistemic goods. Note that this performance is domain-specific, that is, for the football fan group their collective intellectual self-trust only holds for football-related topics and objects. And infrequent mistakes do not destroy the warrant of the collective intellectual self-trust because the overall quality matters. Yet, if the mistakes (false beliefs, unjustified beliefs, misperceptions) increase and become regular, the group’s collective intellectual self-trust becomes unwarranted.
One final distinction: warranted and unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust each come in degrees—irrespective of whether their collective intellectual self-trust is warranted or not. A group can have stronger or weaker warranted collective intellectual self-trust. As I have noted above, this depends, inter alia, on the level of collectivity of the group, their shared concerns, their shared heightened consciousness and the constitution of the particular group. One moderately collective group may have weaker warranted collective intellectual self-trust than another moderately collective group because they have only recently been founded or because they have long been subject to systemic oppression from which they need to recover. The constituents—behavioral, affective, cognitive components, mutual awareness and mutual recognition—are present in both instances, but they may be weaker, or their scope may be more restricted in the group with weaker warranted collective intellectual self-trust.
In summary, collective intellectual self-trust is an optimistic, affective and cognitive self-reflective stance that group members take toward the cognitive capacities, experiences, beliefs and thoughts of the group and its members. The basis of their collective intellectual self-trust are individually shared concerns or communally shared concerns—depending on the level of collectivity of the group—as well as a shared heightened consciousness regarding their group-specific concerns. A group’s collective intellectual self-trust is paradigmatically manifest (1) in their believing that their cognitive capacities are working properly; (2) in their feeling that their cognitive capacities are trustworthy; (3) in treating their cognitive capacities as working correctly and being trustworthy and acting accordingly; (4) in the group members’ mutual recognition of each other; and (5) in the group members’ mutual awareness that the other group members have collective intellectual self-trust.
9. An Objection Concerning the Acquisition of Collective Intellectual Self-Trust
Let me close by discussing an objection against my conception of collective intellectual self-trust that allows me to sharpen the conception. The objection notes that the mutual awareness condition of collective intellectual self-trust is too strong because it makes the acquisition of collective intellectual self-trust conceptually impossible. This objection addresses a facet of collective intellectual self-trust that I have only mentioned briefly: the acquisition and the development of collective intellectual self-trust. The objection notes that the mutual awareness condition cannot be met by groups and their members who are in the process of developing collective intellectual self-trust. And indeed, we cannot fix a path towards collective intellectual self-trust for all and any groups. Groups are just too different in that respect. We can look to psychologists for some empirical suggestions, but they, too, won’t have a definite developmental story of collective intellectual self-trust. They can specify components, as I have, and offer additional empirical evidence, for example, for low-level processes of collective intellectual self-trust. On my conception, we can say that continuous behavioral, cognitive and affective manifestations, mutual recognition as well as low-level processes and high-level processes such as interaction and support within the group are necessary for developing collective intellectual self-trust. And in those manifestations and interactions, the group members will, at some point, also experience mutual awareness and come to meet the mutual awareness condition. Their mutual awareness may intensify over time. In addition, the group might need some unifying basis that brings the group together and keeps it together, as, for example, in the case of the LoCI writing group. They might also need what Medina calls “echoable” actions, actions that are “taken up or reenacted” (2013: 25), as well as “chained actions”, that is, “actions that echo or resonate with one another, actions that overlap and share a conceptual space or a joint significance, actions that can be aligned and have a (more or less) clear trajectory” (2013: 225).
We cannot provide a textbook story of how collective intellectual self-trust is acquired and maintained, but this does not speak against my proposed conception of collective intellectual self-trust, nor does this objection. My conception does not imply that all five components must be present at all developmental stages of collective intellectual self-trust, there can be and will be intermediate, mixed stages in which low-level and high-level processes, interaction, beliefs, etc. arrange to build a group’s collective intellectual self-trust. And note that the conception also does not imply that once collective intellectual self-trust is built, it is guaranteed to last. Rather, there are very effective processes of destroying and losing collective intellectual self-trust. As in the case of individual intellectual self-trust, we will probably find that losing collective intellectual self-trust is easier than developing and sustaining collective intellectual self-trust (cf. El Kassar 2020: 21–23). These processes should be examined in other collective epistemic practices such as collective inquiry, collective knowledge, thus continuing steps in the epistemology of collective intellectual self-trust.
Many thanks to Natalie Ashton, Josh Habgood-Coote, Sebastian Schmidt, Leo Townsend, audiences at the workshop “Epistemic Injustice in the Aftermath of Collective Wrongdoing” at the University of Bern, the members of Lutz Wingert’s colloquium at ETH Zürich, the members of Anne Meylan and Jörg Löschke’s colloquium at the University of Zürich and two anonymous reviewers for their perceptive comments on earlier versions of this paper.
- For example, Foley argues that “I am entitled to make what I can of the conflict using the faculties, procedures, and opinions I have confidence in, even if these faculties, procedures, and opinions are the very ones being challenged by others” (2001: 79). Note that Foley (2001) undercuts my terminological distinction because he talks of intellectual trust in oneself in his contribution on the strictly epistemological context, but that is a minor issue because I do not aim to put up a water-tight terminological distinction. [^]
- “Acting accordingly” may also mean not acting; a subject with adequate intellectual self-trust knows when to act in a particular way and when to refrain from acting in that way. She knows when to voice her opinion and when not. [^]
- Alternatively, one may follow Zagzebski’s claim that every human being starts off with some intellectual self-trust (cf. Zagzebski 2014: 271). But this intellectual self-trust, too, must be fostered and maintained socially. [^]
- See Tanesini (2019) and El Kassar (2022) for more on these distinctions. [^]
- Thanks to Matthew Congdon for introducing this example in his (2021). [^]
- The term concern also captures much of what Tuomela calls ethos, since a group’s shared concerns will co-determine the group’s ethos. I will thus use both terms whenever appropriate. [^]
- Some might suggest that “Fridays for future” is not moderately collective but strongly collective, because they have more cohesion, more collectivity than Critical Mass or loosely organized fan groups. Most Critical Mass participants do not have group reasons because they are only privately committed to the concerns of Critical Mass; for example, they can just stop cycling with the other Critical Mass participants. In contrast, “Fridays for future” members who have taken up representative functions for the initiative have explicitly and collectively committed to the shared concerns and are thus part of a strongly collective group and cannot independently decide to leave the collective. Their situation is different from students who merely attend the demonstrations and are privately committed. I won’t dispute this interpretation since there might really be both a strongly collective “Fridays for future” and a weakly collective “Fridays for future” depending on the internal structures of the groups and the members. [^]
- The details of how these groups are epistemic subjects, e.g., how they know (e.g., Gilbert 1989; Bird 2014) are not relevant for the present discussion because collective intellectual self-trust is not limited to epistemic groups. [^]
- Think of Brownmiller’s story of how Carmita Wood came to Lin Fairley’s office and told her of the unwanted sexual advances of her boss. Wood’s report was enough to spark a light and have them create the term sexual harassment (Brownmiller 1999). The #MeToo-movement may be said to be based on a similar incident, a similar spark. A spark in itself is not enough, but we may look to José Medina’s conception of echoing in the case of resistance for a conception of what is needed in addition to the spark (2013). I return to these considerations in the final section. [^]
- I had previously only included mutual awareness as a component of collective intellectual self-trust (cf. El Kassar 2021), but now I take there to be two mutuality components. [^]
- Thanks to Matthew Congdon for suggesting this addition (in his 2021). [^]
- Salmela and Nagatsu (2016: 36) similarly argue that mutual awareness is a condition of two or more subjects having a collective emotion. [^]
- Let me emphasize that a shared heightened consciousness and collective intellectual self-trust are not intrinsically epistemically or morally valuable. Their value depends, inter alia, on features such as the groups’ shared concerns, their structures, etc. I cannot adequately address the connections of collective intellectual self-trust to moral and epistemic value in this context, but Section 8 on warranted and unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust sketches relevant considerations. See also El Kassar (2022) for more on these issues. [^]
- After the 2020 US presidential elections when Fox News called the race in Arizona for Biden and later did not accept Trump’s lies about election manipulation, Trump supporters started boycotting the TV channel that had previously been a consistent supporter of Trump. Instead they turned to One America News and News Max who endorsed Trump’s lies. The group of Trump supporters (perhaps, groups of Trump supporters, but I leave out nuances because they are not relevant for the main observation) saw and understood that Fox News’s news did not fit with their shared concern anymore—lauding Trump and keeping him the president of the United States, inter alia—and thus jointly changed their favorite news source. Thanks to an anonymous referee for introducing this example. [^]
- Other groups or individuals could also be salient in this example, e.g., parents raising BIPOC children in the USA. Human beings are members of several groups that may be overlapping but also distinct. Conditions of group membership are a complex topic and I have to bracket this issue in this paper. [^]
- Cf. also Tuomela’s discussion in his reply to Ludwig (Ludwig 2017; Tuomela 2017). [^]
- It is also not necessary that the group is in one place at one time. Especially with today’s communication technologies this requirement would be far too strong. It is enough that the group has interaction spaces and these spaces may be online or offline or both. [^]
- Lackey (2020) similarly proposes adopting a “group agent account” for understanding group belief rather than a summative or non-summative account. Since Lackey focuses on group belief, the terms and scope of her account are different from those in discussing collective intellectual self-trust, e.g., in the role of evidence. But I assume that it is possible and indeed beneficial to combine the group agent account with the epistemology of collective intellectual self-trust. This is for another occasion. [^]
- Cf. Salmela and Nagatsu (2016) on such low-level processes in collective emotions. I cannot discuss the underlying psychological research on the relevant processes in this context. For an overview of the psychological research that is framed in terms of emergent and coordinated joint action but still relevant for collective intellectual self-trust, see Knoblich, Butterfill, and Sebanz (2011). [^]
- Salmela and Nagatsu (2016) explain how these low-level processes enable and shape collective emotions and they claim that in the case of collective emotions the group membership intensifies the collective emotion both on the level of the synchronization processes as well as on the affective level of the felt emotion. Cf. also Pacherie (2017) for the role of these low-level processes in collective phenomenology. [^]
- Note that having collective intellectual self-trust does not require that all members of a group with collective intellectual self-trust act in unison; not all Beyhive members participated in bullying Curran nor did they all endorse it. And Beyoncé herself did not endorse the actions of the Beyhive. In fact, her publicist in an Instagram post asked the Beyhive not to spread hatred but love. See, e.g., Duboff (2019). [^]
- Thanks to Matthew Congdon and Karen Jones for each raising this issue (Congdon 2021; Jones 2021). [^]
- This is not to say that the Long Covid Support Facebook group cannot or did not change and develop shared concerns. [^]
- One may submit that the Critical Mass group members do have thin collective intellectual self-trust. But this verdict depends on the details of the example and thus is a contingent issue, not a general point about collective intellectual self-trust and groups with different levels of collectivity. [^]
- More on different levels of individual intellectual self-trust in my (2020: 15–16). [^]
- Since the dynamics of this movement are complicated, I focus on COVID-19 skepticism and COVID-19 denial as the major thread. The movement has brought together individuals with diverse background convictions and diverging concerns and motivations: citizens worried about the COVID-19 regulations but also anti-vaxxers, esotericists and right-wing extremists. I do not discuss these nuances and I also do not analyze the development of the movement in detail (such as the recent radicalization and violence of groups members in the Fall and Winter of 2021); I focus on the core that drew the members together. [^]
- Distrust of other groups may also come with moderately collective intellectual self-trust, but it is plausibly less likely since the structures of moderately collective intellectual self-trust are looser. [^]
- Two important clarificatory remarks: Collective intellectual self-trust that accompanies strong distrust is not limited to particular political viewpoints, for example, right-wing extremist groups, but the characteristics of unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust stand out very clearly in such groups. And not all groups with robust collective intellectual self-trust are violent. [^]
- See also Srinivasan (2018). [^]
- These epistemic goods are not just attainable for groups, but the process by which the epistemic goods are produced is special in groups with collective intellectual self-trust. I cannot discuss the details in the context of this article. [^]
- Thanks to an anonymous referee for pointing to a possible connection with distrust and for inviting me to say more about warranted and unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust in general. [^]
- A virtue epistemologist framework may want to spell out the difference in terms of epistemic virtues and vices. Warranted collective intellectual self-trust could also be conceived of as a virtue, with unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust as one of its related vices. See El Kassar (2022) for more on the virtue epistemological framework of valuable and pernicious collective intellectual self-trust. [^]
- Anderson’s Deweyan model of epistemic democracy and other similar models in theory of democracy may provide further explanations of how groups with warranted collective intellectual self-trust are better equipped for finding errors and correcting false beliefs (Anderson 2006). And Boyd’s notion of groupstrapping could be employed to further examine the workings in groups with unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust (2019). [^]
- Unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust can thus also contribute to explaining the workings in filter bubbles and echo chambers (Nguyen 2020). [^]
- Another type of unwarranted collective intellectual self-trust can be found in cults. In a cult, a hierarchical group, the members follow the leader devoutly and adapt their beliefs and epistemic practice to those of the leader. The cult may be following a person or an object, they may be religious or spiritual or neither. Cults are special cases of hierarchical groups. Not all hierarchical groups have a spiritual leader and devout followers. I suggest that cults can have collective intellectual self-trust. However, the basis of such collective intellectual self-trust is not the group, but the cult leader, the guru. This guru is like an external authority that imposes the ethos, i.e., the shared concerns, desires, values, on the group members (cf. Tuomela 2013: 30). Group members most likely defer to the perception and beliefs of the group leader as the right beliefs and perceptions. They will have a shared heightened consciousness for all matters relating to the cult and thus have collective intellectual self-trust. Yet, their collective intellectual self-trust is unwarranted because their perception, the beliefs, and the intellectual self-trust are skewed by the hierarchical structure of the cult. Hierarchical groups that do not have an ethos are less likely to develop collective intellectual self-trust because they lack the shared concerns and the shared heightened consciousness that co-found the collective intellectual self-trust. [^]
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