Finding Your True Epistemic Peers: Epistemic Solidarity on Dynamic Networks

Working paper. PDF.

To find out what is in one’s own best interest, it is often helpful to ask for the opinions of one’s like-minded epistemic peers. But who are the relevant peers? If one cannot be sure that everyone has the sameinterests, then identifying one’s epistemic peers is not a trivial task. I explore this challenge in a stylized political setting:  For the more numerous “Masses” to beat the smaller but better organized “Elites” in a poll, the Masses need to know which alternative on offer is truly in their interest. To address this challenge, the Masses can practice what I call epistemic solidarity: they can pool their privately held information in a pre-election ballot to use their distributed knowledge and reliably identify what is in their interest. The Masses then vote in solidarity for the identified alternative. Epistemic solidarity is a powerful tool if the Masses know with whom they share the same interests and therefore who should be included in the pre-election ballot. In this paper I analyse settings in which that group formation process is inhibited because neither the Masses nor the Elites have reliable information about who their epistemic peers are. I model group formation processes on networks in which the Masses and the Elites attempt to form pooling groups in a dynamic network shaping process. My simulations show that the Masses can succeed, but they also suggest reasons why the Elites may ultimately be better at identifying alternatives that promote their true interests.