The London Lectures

How do we know? The Social Dimension of Knowledge


Knowledge is often thought of as something that we each individually have, something inside our own minds. But our knowledge depends on other people's testimony and expertise. And what we know depends on what our society makes it possible for us to know, either formally or informally through social norms and practices that suppress some ideas and privilege others. The philosophical study of the social dimension of knowledge is called Social Epistemology. This series gathers experts in the field from across the world to give their perspectives on it. 


This year's lectures will be held in Foyles Bookshop, Level 6, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT from 5.45 to 7.15 pm.  These events are free and open to everyone, but you must register for a place -- click on the Tickets links below. Most talks will appear on our YouTube Page shortly after they happen -- subscribe and you won't miss them.


11 October, Paul Giladi, The Agent in Pain: Alienation and Discursive Abuse TICKETS

My aim in this talk is to draw attention to a currently underdeveloped notion of pain and alienation, in order to sketch an engaging account of the harms of what one may call ‘discursive abuse’, namely practices of silencing, wilful ignorance, and violating a person’s integrity as a knowing agent.


Paul Giladi is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University, and editor of Responses to Naturalism: Critical Perspectives from Idealism and Pragmatism (Routledge, 2019).



18 October, Havi Carel, 'It’s hard to think without your pants on’: Patients as Knowers TICKETS

In this talk, I will examine how patient accounts are discounted, ignored, marginalised or otherwise deemed uncredible. Using Miranda Fricker's concept, epistemic injustice, I characterise this problem as endemic to modern healthcare structures. I end by offering ameliorative strategies.


Havi Carel is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol and the author of Phenomenology of Illness (2016), Illness (2008, 2013, 2018 shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize), and of Life and Death in Freud and Heidegger (2006).



1 November, Alvin I. Goldman, How Can We Decide Who the Experts Are?  Or Can We? TICKETS

We often appeal to experts.  But which experts should be relied upon?  How can an ordinary person who lacks special training in the relevant sphere, make a sound decision as to which self-proclaimed expert (if any) should be relied upon?  Some people deny there are genuine experts altogether.  It’s all just a sham, a fraud.  Is this correct?  Or are there genuine experts?  If so, how can non-experts detect who they are?  


Alvin Goldman has taught philosophy at the University of Michigan, the University of Arizona, and Rutgers University.  He has written five books, more than 160 scholarly papers, edited numerous volumes, and been the subject of several volumes devoted to his work. 



8 November, Liam Kofi Bright, Why Do Scientists Lie? TICKETS

Science is our best attempt to get at the truth about the world. We rely on its results every time we develop and use new technologies and medicines. Scientific fraud is thus a serious problem, undermining our trust in a vital public institution. This lecture is about why scientists lie and what can be done about it - but, paradoxically, we will find that thinking about scientific lies helps us better understand how scientists reach the truth.


Dr. Liam Kofi Bright is an assistant professor at the London School of Economics; he specialises in the philosophy of science. 


15 November, Alessandra Tanesini, Passionate Speech: On The Uses and Abuses of Anger in Public Debate TICKETS

Anger dominates debates in the public sphere. In this talk I discuss two types of anger: the arrogant anger of those who arrogate special entitlements, and the liberatory anger that can be used to good effect in the struggles for equality and recognition. I show that arrogant anger is often at the root of intimidation and behaviours designed to humiliate. I also explore how on occasion calls for civility actually promote the silencing of liberatory anger.


Alessandra Tanesini is Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University. Her new book The Mismeasure of the Self: A Study in Vice Epistemology is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.



22 November, Elizabeth Fricker, Should We Worry About Losing Skills to Robots? TICKETS

Modern smart technology is taking over many skilled tasks that used to be done by humans. Should we worry about becoming progressively deskilled? Is skilled activity an essential part of a worthwhile human life? Do we miss out on something valuable, by failing to acquire and exercise specific skills? In my talk I will explore these questions.


Ellizabeth Fricker is an Emeritus Fellow at Magdalen College Oxford and Visiting Professor in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. She is an authority on testimony - knowledge through the spoken or written word of others and has also published in other areas of theory of knowkledge and in the philosophy of mind.



29 November, C. Thi Nguyen, The Gamification of Public Discourse TICKETS

Social media has turned conversation into a game, where we compete for points in the form of likes, retweets, and follower counts. This tempts us to trade away the subtle goods of discourse — connection, understanding, and wisdom — in return for the thrills of success in vividly quantified terms. 


C. Thi Nguyen isAssociate Professor of Philosophy, Utah Valley University. He has recently written on games, trust, echo chambers, and moral outrage porn. His first book, Games: Agency as Art is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. 


6 December, Miranda Fricker, Being Believed TICKETS

What is the value of being believed? The answer to this question has three aspects: the first concerns a basic kind of ethical-epistemic respect; the second concerns the inferential implications for changes to the hearer’s world view; and the third concerns the practical implications in terms of reasons for action.


Miranda Fricker is Presidential Professor of Philosophy at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her main areas of research are Moral Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, and Social Epistemology.



17 January, Jennifer Lackey, False Confessions and Evidence Swamping TICKETS

In this talk, I take a close look at the role that confessions play in the United States criminal justice system. I show that the phenomenon of testimonial injustice can help explain why confession evidence often swamps all other evidence, even in the face of the prevalence of false confessions.


Jennifer Lackey is the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University and the Director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program. Most of her research is in the area of social epistemology, with a recent focus on issues involving credibility and false confessions, the epistemology of groups, and testimonial injustice.



24 January, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Agreeing to Disagree: Do Rules on Debate from Classical India Help Us With Dissent and Norms Today? TICKETS

In a deeply pluralistic society, thinkers in classical India developed ways of inquiry and means of knowing that could be debated according to only those commitments one shared with one's opponents. This implicitly acknowledged a tradition of dissent that challenged even the notion of shared commitments. Such a model may help to analyze modern society's rather different history of social knowledge.


Chakravarthi Ram-Prasadis Fellow of the British Academy, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Philosophy and Religion, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University. His most recent book is Human Being, Bodily Being: Phenomenology from Classical India, Oxford University Press.



31 January, Linda Martín Alcoff, Speaking as a Survivor: On Rape and Resistance in the Age of #MeToo TICKETS

This talk will explore the new moment we are in given the #MeToo movement’s efforts to expand the public discussion of rape. Speaking about rape in the news media, in legal contexts, or just in one’s personal life is difficult given the ways in which our speech is so often misinterpreted, used against us, or made use of for other purposes than reducing sexual violence. How can we create the conditions for fair assessments as well as a better understanding of the nature of the experience? 


Linda Martín Alcoff is Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies at the City University of New York. Recent books include Rape and  Resistance (Polity 2018) and The Future of Whiteness (Polity 2015).



7 February, Sanford C. Goldberg, The Promise and Pitfalls of Online ‘Conversations’ TICKETS

Good conversations are one of the great joys of life.  Online (social media) “conversations” rarely seem to make the grade.  In this talk I use some tools from philosophy in an attempt to illuminate what might be going wrong.


Sanford C. Goldberg is Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University.  His most recent book is entitled Conversational Pressure (Oxford University Press).



21 February, Peter Adamson, Don't Think for Yourself: Philosophy, Authority, and Belief in Three Medieval Cultures TICKETS

Medieval philosophy is commonly assumed to be authority-bound and uncreative. In this talk we will however see that medieval philosophers in Latin Christendom, the Islamic World, and Byzantium debated the question of how, and whether, elite scholars and ordinary people should "think for themselves" as opposed to 

taking authoritative beliefs on trust. The answers they gave remain relevant for us today as we confront our own questions about the role of authority and expertise in society.


Peter Adamson is Professor Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich, and retains an appointment at King's College London, where he was Professor of Philosophy until 2012. He is the author of the podcast and book series A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.



28 February, Lani Watson, What is a question TICKETS

We ask questions all the time but we rarely reflect on doing so. Yet, what, who, when, where and how we ask questions can drastically effect what we end up knowing, believing and doing. This talk explores what questions are, why we ask them and how we all benefit from asking good questions and avoiding bad ones.


Lani Watson is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Edinburgh. She thinks, writes and talks about questions and questioning and consults with diverse organisations, from zoos to banks!


6 March, Katharine Jenkins, Rape Myths: What They Are and What We Can Do About Them TICKETS

Misunderstandings about rape and sexual violence abound. Some of these concern the way that sexual consent works, others wrongly place blame on the victim, and still others present a distorted view of how, where, and by whom sexual violence is most often perpetrated. But how exactly do these myths work? And, more importantly, how can we get rid of them? 


Katharine Jenkins is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, and in the summer of 2020 she will join the Philosophy Department at the University of Glasgow as a Lecturer. She specialises in the philosophy of gender, race, and sexuality.




Hugo Mercier, Not Born Yesterday: Why Humans Are Less Gullible Than We Think TICKETS

Humans are often portrayed as gullible, being easily influenced by charismatic figures, majority opinion, deceitful advertising, or even fake news. The evidence shows on the contrary that we are skilled at evaluating all sorts of messages, and that persuading people en masse is incredibly difficult.


Hugo Mercier is a cognitive scientist working at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris. He is the author of The Enigma of Reason (with Dan Sperber) and, most recently, of Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe.


Past London Lectures

Although lectures in London have been arranged since the Institute was founded, it was in 1967 that the first series was published. In the forward to first volume, The Human Agent, the editor, Godfrey Vesey, writes, "On Friday evenings in the winter months London members of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and their friends meet in a small hall in Bloomsbury -- 14 Gordon Square, London W.C. 1 -- to listen to, and discuss, lectures by foremost British, and visiting, philosophers .... In response to requests by members of the Institute living too far form London to attend the lectures (the Institute has a world-wide membership) arrangements have been made for ... them to be published in a yearly volume."


Here's is a list of all the published London Lectures Series.


2018 A Centenary Celebration: Anscombe, Foot, Midgley and Murdoch

2017 Passions and the Emotions

2016 Metaphysics

2015 Philosophy of Action

2014 History of Philosophy

2013 Mind, Self, and Persons

2012 Philosophical Traditions

2011 Philosophy and Sport

2010 The Arts

2009 The Environment

2008 Religion

2007 Conceptions of Philosophy

2006 Epistemology

2005 Philosophy of Science

2004 Philosophy, Biology and Life

2003 Agency and Action

2002 Modern Moral Philosophy

2001 Minds and Persons

2000 Logic, Thought and Language

1999 Philosophy at the New Millennium

1998 Philosophy, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful

1997 German Philosophy Since Kant

1996 Current Issues in Philosophy of Mind

1995 Verstehen and Humane Understanding

1994 Karl Popper: Philosophy and Problems

1993 Philosophy, Psychology and Psychiatry

1992 Ethics

1991 The Impulse to Philosophise

1990 The A. J. Ayer Memorial Lectures

1989 Wittgenstein Centenary Lectures

1988 The Philosophy in Christianity

1987 Recurrent Philosophical Themes

1986 Contemporary French Philosophy

1985 Philosophers Ancient and Modern

1984 American Philosophy

1983 Philosophy and Practice

1982 Objectivity and Cultural Divergence

1981 Philosophy and Literature

1980 Of Liberty

1979 Marx and Marxisms

1978 Idealism -- Past and Present

1977 Philosophers of the Enlightenment

1976 Human Values

1975 Communication and Understanding

1974 Impressions of Empiricism

1973 Nature and Conduct

1972 Understanding Wittgenstein

1971 Philosophy and the Arts 

1970 Reason and Reality

1969 The Proper Study

1968 Knowledge and Necessity

1967 Talk of God

1966 The Human Agent