Our Epistemic Duties in Scenarios of Vaccine Mistrust

Giulia Terzian, M. Inés Corbalán

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1 Citation (Scopus)


What, if anything, should we do when someone says they don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change? Or that they worry that a COVID-19 vaccine might be dangerous? We argue that in general, we face an epistemic duty to object to such assertions, qua instances of science denial and science sceptical discourse, respectively. Our argument builds on recent discussions in social epistemology, specifically surrounding the idea that we ought to speak up against (epistemically) problematic assertions so as to fulfil an important epistemic obligation–namely, preventing epistemic harms in others. We show that both science denial (SD) and vaccine hesitant (VH) discourses are harmful in a distinctively epistemic sense, and as such generate an especially strong duty to voice our disagreement. As we also argue, this obligation is nonetheless defeasible: depending on the situational features of those involved, voicing an objection to VH discourse may actually end up doing more harm than good. We conclude by tracing what seems like a promising path towards restoring well-placed public trust in scientific testifiers. Doing so is key in order to guarantee equitable access to warranted beliefs about important subject matters, such as the safety of vaccines, to all segments of society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-640
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of Philosophical Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Epistemic justice
  • Positive epistemic duties
  • Science denial
  • Trust in science
  • Vaccine hesitancy


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