UCI launches Center for Knowledge, Technology and Society: Q&A with Director Duncan Pritchard

Department: Center for Knowledge, Technology & Society

Post Date: November 6, 2020

News Details

UCI launches Center for Knowledge, Technology and Society
A Q&A with director Duncan Pritchard


How can a philosopher’s toolbox help fight extremism? What is truth and does the Internet gets us further away or closer to it? Is technology making us smarter or disguising ways in which we are getting dumber? These are just a few of the questions researchers in UCI’s new Center for Knowledge, Technology and Society aim to tackle. Directed by Duncan Pritchard, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, and administered by the UCI Humanities Center, the new center brings philosophy together with a range of disciplines, including education, medicine, law, nursing, and cognitive science, to tackle urgent issues of today.

What follows is a Q&A with director Duncan Pritchard.

What was the genesis for the new Center for Knowledge, Technology and Society and what do you hope to accomplish with a formal center?

In 2016, the UCI Department of Philosophy made several high-profile faculty hires that, nearly overnight, elevated the department’s profile as one of best places in the world to study epistemology, a branch of philosophy centered on truth and knowledge. Though officially a center now, many of the ideas that form the center were generated in earlier research from 2016 onwards.

With center status, we can raise the profile of the innovative research taking place on campus by philosophers and their interdisciplinary research partners across campus—from our skepticism and relativism MOOCs to the new Anteater Virtues Project, both of which were designed online to be scalable, but find new value during remote instruction.

Additionally, with center status we can more ambitiously seek external funding for research and community outreach projects.

You’ve described the center as focused on “applied” philosophy. Tell us about that distinction.

A lot of philosophy is by its very nature abstract—it doesn’t apply itself to practical questions. So, it is quite distinctive that UCI has a large group of philosophers who are interested in applying philosophy, and epistemology in particular, to the grand challenges of our time. For example, there are epistemological questions around medicine (should we always defer to medical experts?), cognitive science (can technology become part of our cognitive processes?), law (what is the standard of proof?), and education (how can educators promote the development of intellectual character?). With the latter focus on education, the Anteater Virtues Project is a great illustration of how the applied epistemology of education can create a real-world impact—we had a research question that generated an innovative educational initiative and new knowledge has arisen as a result.

What types of programming and projects can we look forward to from the center?

We’ve recently hosted our annual social and applied epistemology lecture series with Ernest Sosa, a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers and one of the nation’s preeminent philosophers. One of the main highlights of our future programming is a major international conference devoted to the topic of Identities and Epistemic Injustice. In addition, we are planning a virtual launch event for the center that will showcase the work that we are currently doing, and what we plan to do in the future. 

In terms of broader projects, we have several on the horizon:

- Educational programs. Our Anteater Virtues project recently went campus-wide, and we’re now looking at ways of developing it further, both within UCI and beyond. Within UCI, this means working with faculty across the campus to develop new materials, such as examining the intellectual virtues from the perspective of non-western traditions, and integrating the project with other educational initiatives at UCI, such as the Great Big Read. Outside UCI, this includes looking at ways that we can extend this initiative to local schools, beyond the innovative Intellectual Virtues Academy schools in Long Beach with which the project is already partnered. This might mean, for example, extending our current TH!NK Program, which is geared to elementary school students, to middle and high school students and introducing additional elements devoted to the intellectual virtues. I’d also be keen to explore a prison education project in this regard, which would build on my experiences back in Scotland, where we successfully managed to introduce critical thinking teaching into prison education nationwide. Finally, there is an important research dimension to our educational programs, in that we are seeking to bring cutting-edge research to bear on their development while at the same time advancing new lines of research, such as the educational study we have recently completed of the Anteater Virtues project, funded by UCI’s Education Research Initiative. We hope to use this research dimension to attract external funding.

- Cross-center collaborations. Given the interdisciplinary scope of our center, our activities lend themselves to cross-center collaborations. For example, there is an ongoing research collaboration between scholars in our center and faculty in the Center for Legal Philosophy (co-hosted by the Schools of Humanities and Law) concerning epistemological issues in law, such as the nature of legal evidence. Another example is the recently-founded Center for Nursing Philosophy, in the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing. I serve on the steering committee for this new center and we are already working on collaborative projects, including our research on medical epistemology.

- Master’s program in applied philosophy. We are currently developing an online master’s program in applied philosophy geared to working professionals. This would be the first of its kind. Industry professionals—from law, medicine and technology to the arts, humanities and social sciences—would train in how to apply philosophical concepts to their careers. The program would culminate with a project that looks at how they can bring philosophy to bear on a practical and meaningful question tied to their profession.

How can people get involved with the center?

There are a number of ways to get involved, depending on who you are and what your interests are.

Students who are interested in studying epistemology and philosophy can consider taking courses in our department or majoring and minoring in philosophy. With the major, there are specializations in law and society and medicine and well-being. We offer minors in philosophy, humanities and law and medical humanities. Students who are interested in signing up for the Anteater Virtues course can do so here.

Faculty interested in research partnerships should reach out to me directly at dhpritch@uci.edu. Faculty who are interested in making use of the Anteater Virtues course in their teaching can find out more here.

Community members who are interested in supporting our work should reach out to Sean Fischer, director of development, at seandf@uci.edu.

Everyone interested in our future events and projects should sign up for our newsletter here.