The Epistemology of Disagreement

The Epistemology of Disagreement

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  • September 12, 2022
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The epistemology of disagreement studies the epistemically relevant aspects of the interaction between parties who hold diverging opinions about a given subject matter. The central question that the epistemology of disagreement purports to answer is how the involved parties should resolve an instance of disagreement. Answers to this central question largely depend on the epistemic position of each party before disagreement occurs. Two parties are equally positioned from an epistemic standpoint—namely, they are epistemic peers—to the extent that they have roughly equal access to the evidence and comparable intellectual resources. When one party is epistemically better positioned than the other—that is, when one is an epistemic superior—it is widely agreed that this party should retain their belief while the other party—the epistemic inferior—should revise their opinion in the direction of what the epistemic superior believes. Addressing the central question is a complex task when the disagreeing parties are epistemic peers. Three main answers can be distinguished. Conciliatory answers mandate that both parties revise—i.e. lower their confidence in—their beliefs upon the occurrence of peer disagreement. Steadfast answers allow both parties to retain their respective beliefs, thereby committing them to demote the epistemic position of the interlocutor. The third group of answers suggests that the solution to peer disagreement depends on whether either party is highly justified in holding their belief. If either party is highly justified, then it is rational that this party retains its view. If neither party is highly justified, both should revise. The epistemology of disagreement addresses further important questions such as: whether the occurrence of disagreement opens the doors to skepticism and/or relativism; what the consequences of epistemic disagreement on intellectual character are; what laypeople should do when experts disagree with each other; and whether disagreement among groups can be treated in the same way as disagreement among individuals.

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