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1st Edition

Why It's OK Not to Think for Yourself

By Jonathan Matheson Copyright 2023
    ISBN 9781032438269
    190 Pages
    September 15, 2023 by Routledge

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    We tend to applaud those who think for themselves: the ever-curious student, for example, or the grownup who does her own research. Even as we’re applauding, however, we ourselves often don’t think for ourselves. This book argues that’s completely OK. 

    In fact, it’s often best just to take other folks’ word for it, allowing them to do the hard work of gathering and evaluating the relevant evidence. In making this argument, philosopher Jonathan Matheson shows how "expert testimony" and "the wisdom of crowds" are tested and convincing ideas that make it rational to believe something simply because other people believe it.  Matheson then takes on philosophy’s best arguments against his thesis, including the idea that non-self-thinkers are free-riding on the work of others, Socrates’ claim that "the unexamined life isn’t worth living," and that outsourcing your intellectual labor makes you vulnerable to errors and manipulation. Matheson shows how these claims and others ultimately fail -- and that when it comes to thinking, we often need not be sheepish about being sheep.  

    Key Features

    • Discusses the idea of not thinking for yourself in the context of contemporary issues like climate change and vaccinations
    • Engages in numerous contemporary debates in social epistemology
    • Examines what can be valuable about thinking for yourself and argues that these are insufficient to require you to do so
    • Outlines the key, practical takeaways from the argument in an epilogue

    Chapter 1 Introduction

    Keeping your House in Order

    What is Thinking for Yourself?

    Clarifying the Central Conclusion

    Looking Ahead

    Chapter 2 Believing (Just) Because Others Believe: Epistemic Surrogates

    From Individual to Social Epistemology

    Believing the Experts & Epistemic Surrogacy

    The Wisdom of Crowds

    The Upshot

    Chapter 3 The Argument from Expertise

    Motivating the Argument

    Applying the Argument

    An Initial Worry: Identifying the Experts

    The Upshot

    Chapter 4 The Argument from Evidential Swamping

    Motivating the Argument

    Applying the Argument

    The Upshot

    Chapter 5 The Autonomy Objection

    Motivating the Objection

    The Myth of Intellectual Individualism

    Autonomy as Intellectual Freedom

    Autonomy as Intellectual Virtue


    Chapter 6 The Free-Rider Objection

    Motivating the Objection

    The Cognitive Division of Labor

    Epistemic Trespassing

    The Wisdom of Crowds Again


    Chapter 7 The Socratic Objection

    Motivating the Objection

    Normative Questions

    No Relevant Experts

    The Importance of Getting it Right

    Moral Virtue

    In Favor of Socratic Deference


    Chapter 8 The Vulnerability Objection

    Motivating the Objection

    The Inevitability of Vulnerability

    Vulnerability and Checks & Balances

    The Importance of Institutions


    Chapter 9 The Understanding Objection

    Motivating the Objection

    Understanding Without Thinking for Yourself

    Setting the Scope

    Epistemic Satisficing


    Chapter 10 The Intellectual Virtue Objection

    Motivating the Objection

    Cultivating Intellectual Character Through Deference

    Cartesian Epistemology & Social Epistemology

    Social Intellectual Virtues



    Jonathan Matheson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Florida. His research interests are in epistemology, with a focus on issues concerning disagreement and epistemic autonomy. He has authored The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement (2015) and co-edited The Ethics of Belief: Individual and Social (2014) with Rico Vitz and Epistemic Autonomy (2021) with Kirk Lougheed.

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