ox4 - Final Version

Free Software and Beyond
The World of Peer Production

Herbert Hrachovec
Day 2
Room Humanities Bridgeford G6
Start time 10:30
Duration 01:30
ID 30
Event type Lecture
Track Theories on peer production
Language English

Socrates, Truth and Peer Production

The notion of non-commercial peer production has been a constitutive part of the very definition of philosophy since Socrates insisted - against the Sophists - that his interlocutors should join him in the common endeavour of investigating knowledge claims. This is, however, only one part of the traditional philosophical setup, the second one consisting in Plato's additional construction of a qualitative knowledge gap between the masses and the enlightened few. Given this construction it was all too easy for theory to be developed in restricted environments with "peers" defined as cognoscenti sharing a particular set of preferences and a predictably extra-normal background.

The ensuing dualism of ordinary economic transactions and the august realm of academic research and science has been a permanent feature of the systems of knowledge production induced by the European tradition. Lately this demarcation has, however, been severely disturbed as advances in (among others) chemistry, genetics and software development have proved to be of extraordinary economic value and have triggered an unprecedented erosion of the (sort of) Platonic autonomy of scholarly pursuits.

It does, under these circumstances, no longer suffice to simply invoke (the quest for) "Truth" as a guiding principle of human development. It becomes obvious that the kind of peer interaction envisaged in a Platonic set of mind is quite remote from the travails of late capitalism. Philosophers like Habermas and Rawls have pointed out that we need a revised account of truth as resulting from the deliberative practice of peer interaction, but this has, for the most part, remained an internal philosophical argument. This argument can be considerably strenghtened by challenging the Platonic account of Truth arrived at by, as it were, "seeing the light" (in contrast to suffering the common darkness of the cave). Networked peer production of cognitive goods has become an important force of information society. It can be regarded as a substitute for the traditional story about advances in knowledge. The outcome of ongoing communicative efforts would, consequently, take the place of the embattled traditional concept. Peer review would, returning to Socrates' initial move, be a strictly non-exclusive activity extended to a global scale.