Knowledge in Crisis
An FWF Cluster of Excellence
Central European University, University of Vienna, University of Graz, University of Salzburg
Knowledge is the ultimate human resource: without knowledge we cannot effectively manage the environment, our cities, healthcare, governments, education systems, science, culture and everything else. Knowledge is what makes our societies flourish and grow.
But we face a crisis of knowledge today. Our claims to knowledge, both scientific and non-scientific, are threatened by challenges from new technology, from worldwide political volatility, from scepticism about science and from other more theoretical ideas. Our collective grasp of the role of knowledge in our lives is being seriously challenged — and yet, to solve the large problems that we face today, we need knowledge, and scientific knowledge, more than ever.
Philosophy in the last century or so has frequently made progress by a process of specialisation: the discipline breaks down into sub-disciplines, and problems are broken down into smaller problems to make them more tractable. The theory of knowledge (epistemology) has been no exception: the latest developments in epistemology have created many sub-branches of the subject, and this is undeniably progress. But the risk is that we can lose sight of the bigger picture, the overwhelming significance of knowledge to our practical and theoretical relationship to the world.
The Knowledge in Crisis project is based on the assumption that we need to take a broader and deeper philosophical approach: we need to connect areas of philosophy which are often isolated from one another. We need to connect epistemology with the philosophy of science and technology, the philosophies of mind and language, with political philosophy, ethics, the philosophy of education, social philosophy, and metaphysics. Only by combining resources from a wide variety of areas of philosophy can we start to address this crisis in a systematic way.
Research questions and aims
The overall aim of the Cluster is to systematically understand the crisis of knowledge in all its manifestations, and to look for ways to combat it and to rebuild our relationship to knowledge. In pursuit of this overall aim, the Cluster will address a wide range of research questions, which articulate its more specific research objectives. A unique feature of the Cluster will be the ways in which all of the various research questions are interrelated, forming a a dense but focussed criss-cross structure: questions in philosophy of language and mind (for example) connect with questions in ethics or social and political philosophy, all under the overall objective of understanding knowledge, its applications, its uses and abuses, and the crisis in which knowledge currently finds itself.
The Cluster contains six research areas, each of which addresses three significant research questions. The sub-projects are:
(1) The Reach of Human Knowledge, investigating how knowledge is constructed
(2) Knowledge Production in the Human Mind, investigating the knowing mind and its nature (3) Science and its Discontents, investigating the scientific endeavour and the critique of science
(4) Knowledge of Ethics and the Ethics of Knowledge, investigating the ethical dimension of the crisis
(5) Shared Humanity and Social Differences, investigating the social and human structures which enable knowledge
(6) Language, Truth and Knowledge, investigating how language relates to reality.
Research in philosophy proceeds by the systematic investigation of conceptual, linguistic, social, scientific, psychological, moral and political phenomena, with the aim of imposing an order or understanding on them. But in addition to these abstract analyses of phenomena, and normative proposals about how to tackle the crisis, the Cluster’s researchers will also, where relevant, absorb empirical research on the phenomena. For this reason, some parts of the project will be strongly interdisciplinary. Other parts will use historical research to extract insights about our predicament from the philosophers of the recent past.
This highly original project will address the crisis of knowledge by linking ideas from across the whole discipline of philosophy, in a way that never has been done before, in Austria or elsewhere. The guiding conviction is that the crisis of knowledge cannot be dealt with by epistemology alone, but needs a large-scale philosophical approach.
The Board of Directors of the Cluster are: Tim Crane (Director of Research), Katalin Farkas (Deputy Director of Research), Paulina Sliwa (Director of the Training Unit), Marian David, Max Kölbel, Hans Bernhard Schmid and Charlotte Werndl
In addition, there are 20 key researchers from the constituents institutions, and 18 more researchers will be appointed over the period of the project.
The Cluster of Excellence begins on 1 October 2023.