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Technology and our epistemic situation: what ought our priorities to be?

Philippe Verdoux (Based at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 22 February 2011




This paper seeks to argue that there are two distinct problems of ignorance: a problem of size and a problem of type. Both are more pressing today than ever before, given the extraordinary expansion of collective human knowledge, and both pertain to epistemic limitations intrinsic to evolved cognitive systems. After delineating these problems in detail, one possible way of overcoming “relative” and “absolute” ignorance about the universe – enhancement technologies – is to be examined. The paper then aims to argue that, given one's epistemic situation, resources currently being spent on normal research would be far better spent on developing cognition‐enhancing technologies – technologies that promise to help solve the size and type problems previously sketched.


The paper identifies two important limitations on human knowledge, one deriving from the size or complexity of certain problems and the other from one's inability to access specific concepts necessary to understand them. It suggests that cognitive enhancements offer the best chance at overcoming these two limitations.


There are both strong practical and moral reasons for diverting more resources into the development of cognitive enhancement technologies.


No author has yet elaborated on the distinction, which is taken to be important, between the problems of “size” and “type.” Furthermore, no author has yet explored how cognitive enhancements may address the problem that Colin McGinn calls “cognitive closure” (the problem of type). Thus, cognitive enhancements may offer the only possibility of solving conundrums like conscious experience and free will.



Verdoux, P. (2011), "Technology and our epistemic situation: what ought our priorities to be?", Foresight, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 46-57.



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