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The epistemology of disagreement

popculturepooka
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11/14/2013 7:54:34 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I think this forum could use some livening up so here's a juicy topic and one that is particularly relevant to a forum such as this where it is rife with disagreement - what is the epistemic significance of disagreement amongst epistemic peers?

Two people are epistemic peers to some matter if they

a) are aware of the same evidence regarding some matter p

b) they have in general, equal possession of epistemic virtues such as intelligence, thoughtfulness, commitment to minimizing bias, etc.

The question again is what is the significance of this? What should YOU do when you find yourself in staunch disagreement with someone you take to be roughly your equal - your epistemic peer? It seems implausible to dismiss all prima facie epistemic peers as stupid, or ignorant, or more subject to bias (etc) than you are. What makes this such a difficult subject to navigate is that most of the clearly delineated "camps" in this disagreement all start from seemingly very plausible intuitions.

Should we lower our confidence or credence in our own beliefs, giving just as much credence to our epistemic peers? This seems plausible because when we encounter someone just as smart, (etc) as we are this seems to give us less reason to be confident in asserting our own propsitions. For example, in religion, should a theist and atheist who are epistemic peers both lower their credence in their beliefs and become agnostics?

Or should we "stick to our guns" and just say that we are in possession of some special virtue that the epistemic peer lacks? But, on the other hand, the above seems unsatisfactory. Should we really have to become agnostics on *every* important issue in which we have an epistemic peer? Can we be rational in maintaining our level of confidence and credence in the face of peer disagreement?

I'm skipping over a lot of technical details within the literature because I might lose a lot of people going into them but I think you guys get the general idea.

This is a very practical and relevant issue - we encounter (prima facie at least) epistemic peer disagreement in every day situations ranging from religion, to morality, to politics. Surely there are equally intelligent, thoughtful, honest, (etc) defenders for all points of views, so the question is how we should react?

Thoughts?
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Cody_Franklin
Posts: 9,484
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11/14/2013 9:09:20 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
This is an interesting topic, primarily because there is one person in my life whom I consider to be an epistemic peer--to the extent, in fact, that spiritual language about bonding and kinship seems appropriate. We like to think of the other as checks on ourselves, and we've actually developed a strange jargon (consisting not only in words and phrases, but in certain faces, tones, speech acts, gestures, etc.) which permits much nearer-to-immediate communication (much like how philosophers can refer to "Gettier cases" or "Frankfurt counterexamples" without needing to unpack all the attendant literature and definition, but more intimate and personal). I do not think it is especially meaningful to speak about the problem in terms of vague hypothesized equalities (i.e., in terms of idealized epistemic peers), but I think it's worth calling into question (at least, because I am in no position to give an exhaustive list) in which respects they differ (e.g., life experience, research interests), where precisely in a chain of reasoning they disagree, and the type of matter under consideration (purely factual, preferential, etc.). I ask this because, if we're hypothesizing two abstract, more or less equal entities, I should wonder on what grounds they could ever come into disagreement, particularly on questions of fact. If both entities have [nearly identical] "rationality algorithms" and available information, it seems difficult to imagine how disagreement could occur.

I think one answer is a problem of language: if we imagine disagreement as a semantic question (i.e., a question of discourse, of the interplay of signs), what becomes problematic is the problem of saying what we mean. Even with the sensitive language I share with my epistemic peer, we do not have immediate access to what the other means--we can only approximate because of the need of a medium of communication, and there is nothing we can do to "solve" the problem. We often see disagreements which, while sensible on the level of the literal meaning of words (glossed, at least, against a dictionary or common use), acquire on deeper examination the sense (where specific words or phrases are concerned) of two trains passing in the night (the question of divine omnipotence is a relatable example; the phrase "you people" is a more humorous one). Based on the level of intimacy or conscientiousness, this problem can be more or less extreme, from people talking entirely past each other to irate scholars blind to (or impotent in the face of) a singular, nuanced (or not) terminological difference.

In this sense, we might say that, though epistemic peers are relatively equal in their capabilities, they are not each other, and each sensation, impression, mental image, intention, and meaning can (and always will) easily become at least somewhat confounded by their transformation into the discrete realm of language.
Eitan_Zohar
Posts: 2,697
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11/18/2013 12:15:39 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
This is a bit over the head of most DDOers. I recommend philosophyforums.
"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book."
Eitan_Zohar
Posts: 2,697
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11/18/2013 12:23:01 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/14/2013 7:54:34 PM, popculturepooka wrote:
I think this forum could use some livening up so here's a juicy topic and one that is particularly relevant to a forum such as this where it is rife with disagreement - what is the epistemic significance of disagreement amongst epistemic peers?

Two people are epistemic peers to some matter if they

a) are aware of the same evidence regarding some matter p

b) they have in general, equal possession of epistemic virtues such as intelligence, thoughtfulness, commitment to minimizing bias, etc.

The question again is what is the significance of this? What should YOU do when you find yourself in staunch disagreement with someone you take to be roughly your equal - your epistemic peer? It seems implausible to dismiss all prima facie epistemic peers as stupid, or ignorant, or more subject to bias (etc) than you are. What makes this such a difficult subject to navigate is that most of the clearly delineated "camps" in this disagreement all start from seemingly very plausible intuitions.

Should we lower our confidence or credence in our own beliefs, giving just as much credence to our epistemic peers? This seems plausible because when we encounter someone just as smart, (etc) as we are this seems to give us less reason to be confident in asserting our own propsitions. For example, in religion, should a theist and atheist who are epistemic peers both lower their credence in their beliefs and become agnostics?

Or should we "stick to our guns" and just say that we are in possession of some special virtue that the epistemic peer lacks? But, on the other hand, the above seems unsatisfactory. Should we really have to become agnostics on *every* important issue in which we have an epistemic peer? Can we be rational in maintaining our level of confidence and credence in the face of peer disagreement?

I'm skipping over a lot of technical details within the literature because I might lose a lot of people going into them but I think you guys get the general idea.

This is a very practical and relevant issue - we encounter (prima facie at least) epistemic peer disagreement in every day situations ranging from religion, to morality, to politics. Surely there are equally intelligent, thoughtful, honest, (etc) defenders for all points of views, so the question is how we should react?

Thoughts?

Personally, I'd try to achieve a steady rise in my "correctness" and be happy at that. The only real way to be confident that our beliefs are correct is to read as much as you can on opposing viewpoints. If an epistemic peer still disagrees with you in major area that's a red flag, and you should test to see which seems more ignorant on the subject (i.e. debate).
"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book."
Eitan_Zohar
Posts: 2,697
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11/18/2013 12:27:40 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I would also like to point out that, given religion's evident freedom to be commentated on without any real knowledge on it (even by otherwise intelligent people), it really doesn't surprise me that so many intellectuals are nontheists. If a philosopher says God doesn't exist because "anthropomorphism" or whatever it's probably safe to assume he isn't an epistemic peer.
"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book."
Eitan_Zohar
Posts: 2,697
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11/18/2013 5:47:00 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/18/2013 4:00:04 PM, Cody_Franklin wrote:
At 11/18/2013 12:15:39 PM, Eitan_Zohar wrote:
This is a bit over the head of most DDOers. I recommend philosophyforums.

I did not know this existed.

Yeah, I go there when I have a hard problem. There are also "guest speakers" which are well-known philosophers that come on to answer questions.
"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book."
Cody_Franklin
Posts: 9,484
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11/18/2013 5:58:54 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/18/2013 5:47:00 PM, Eitan_Zohar wrote:
At 11/18/2013 4:00:04 PM, Cody_Franklin wrote:
At 11/18/2013 12:15:39 PM, Eitan_Zohar wrote:
This is a bit over the head of most DDOers. I recommend philosophyforums.

I did not know this existed.

Yeah, I go there when I have a hard problem. There are also "guest speakers" which are well-known philosophers that come on to answer questions.

Is it fruitful? I have been doing some reading, but I have not interacted with any of them. What are your experiences of the mood of the place? Do you feel welcomed? Understood? Condescended to? Have you encountered prejudices?
Eitan_Zohar
Posts: 2,697
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11/18/2013 6:34:06 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 11/18/2013 5:58:54 PM, Cody_Franklin wrote:
At 11/18/2013 5:47:00 PM, Eitan_Zohar wrote:
At 11/18/2013 4:00:04 PM, Cody_Franklin wrote:
At 11/18/2013 12:15:39 PM, Eitan_Zohar wrote:
This is a bit over the head of most DDOers. I recommend philosophyforums.

I did not know this existed.

Yeah, I go there when I have a hard problem. There are also "guest speakers" which are well-known philosophers that come on to answer questions.

Is it fruitful? I have been doing some reading, but I have not interacted with any of them. What are your experiences of the mood of the place? Do you feel welcomed? Understood? Condescended to? Have you encountered prejudices?

I think it's a very hardcore place. The people there are pretty rational even for an intellectual website. They aren't condescending unless you make dumb threads (which people ignorant of what philosophy are wont to do), but someone like you shouldn't have any trouble.

I can only take it in small doses, though. The atmosphere is so matter-of-fact and dry that I usually go to Cracked or DDO afterwards to blow off steam. But posting there can be extremely productive.
"It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book."