Topoi (2018) 37:1–2
Introduction: The Philosophy of Expertise—What is Expertise?
· Markus Seidel
Published online: 6 December 2017
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017
1 The Philosophy of Expertise
In modern societies it is virtually impossible to abstain from
trust in expert advice: be it in everyday contexts such as
asking the train attendant about the arrival time at the next
station or in scientiﬁc contexts, in which research projects
of so-called ‘Big Science’ demand the cooperation of many
scientists. As a matter of fact, the omnipresent phenome-
non of expertise has been in disciplinary focus especially
by sociologists (see e.g. Collins and Evans 2007 and; Col-
lins 2014) and psychologists (see e.g. Ericsson et al. 2006).
However, due to the development of social epistemology
and integrated research in the border area of sociology and
philosophy of science the phenomenon of expertise also
gained more and more attention by philosophers. Seminal in
this respect were the paper of Hardwig (1985) and Goldman
(2001) which not only initiated the modern philosophical
debate, but also raised a couple of hitherto unsettled ques-
tions such as:
What is expertise?
What is the function of expertise or what are its desid-
What kinds of expertise are there?
Is there a reasonable (cognitive) threshold for being an
What is expert knowledge and how to represent it?
How can a layperson identify experts and rationally dis-
tinguish between experts and frauds?
What is metaexpertise, who possesses it and which are
the criteria for it?
Can there be rational disagreement between experts and,
if so, how can we account for it?
Do we have any reasonable alternative to expertise or is
our trust in experts plainly unavoidable?
Individuals or collectives: what is a proper subject of
However, despite the pervasive use of experts not only
in scientiﬁc practices and the increasing interest in the con-
ceptual and epistemological issues concerning expertise, the
philosophical discussion about experts and expertise must be
said to be still in ﬂedgling stages. Indeed, the study of vari-
ous forms of expertise did not reveal a deﬁnite answer to any
of the above questions. Moreover, perspectives on potential
answers to this question diﬀer across disciplines. Most nota-
bly, philosophy, psychology and the social sciences provide
diverse angles from which to explore the nature, value and
function of experts. Correspondingly, there is an urgent need
to clarify the most fundamental questions surrounding the
conceptual nature of expertise.
The present special issue aims at ﬁlling this gap by bring-
ing together contributions of leading scholars on the topic
of expertise from diﬀerent areas of philosophy and with dif-
ferent disciplinary backgrounds so that the nature, value and
function of expertise can be explored from diﬀerent points
of view. The main focus stays on the conceptual and social
epistemological issues concerning the notion of expertise.
Thereby, the issue aims at pursuing already existing threads
in applied social epistemology as well as providing a pro-
spective reference point for a blossoming debate about the
conceptual clariﬁcation of the issue of expertise.
2 The Papers of this Issue
The papers of this special issue can be basically divided into
two main groups.
The ﬁrst group of papers mainly addresses conceptual
questions concerning the nature of expertise by pursuing
roughly classical conceptual analysis and explication.
Alvin Goldman introduces several approaches to deﬁne
intellectual expertise none of which he ultimately subscribes
* Christian Quast
University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany