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« Featured Author: Markos Valaris | Main | Cognitive Agency, Judgment and Phenomenology »

10/13/2014

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Clayton

"Moreover, whatever view one has of the arguments, one has epistemic peers in the discipline--really, really smart people who have thought through the arguments just like you have--who hold very different views than you do."

Hi Marcus,

I think this is controversial. There's an argument I've been toying with for some time that I'd offer in response. Let's distinguish two notions of peer:

* Peer 1: x is a peer 1 wrt to p iff x has all the same relevant evidence as you and all the same squishy stuff (i.e., just as conscientious, responsible, informed, interested, etc.).

* Peer 2: x is a peer 2 wrt to p iff x has all the same squishy stuff wrt to p.

I take it that having the same squishy stuff doesn't ensure evidential duplication. If we read your comment as concerning peer 1s, I think that it's false. If we read it as concerning peer 2s, I think that it's true but that it won't support any troubling skeptical consequences.

On the first reading:
P1: Whatever view you have on the topic, you have a peer 1 who disagrees with you.
P2: If you have a peer 1 who disagrees with you about p, you ought to suspend judgment.
C. You ought to suspend judgment on the relevant topic.

I take P1 to be false because I take it that your evidence includes all and only what you know. If E=K, P1 is really just this:
P1*: Whatever view you have on the topic, you have someone who disagrees with you who knows as much as you about the topic.

On that reading, neither of you know p. Now, I agree that if you don't know p, you ought to suspend judgment on p, but why should we grant the first premise that says that you don't have knowledge in the relevant range of cases? That should be the conclusion of a skeptical argument, not it's starting point.

On the second reading:
On that reading, P1 is probably true, but why should we think that if someone has the same squishy stuff as you AND has less relevant evidence than you that you ought to suspend judgment when you discover that this responsible but ignorant person disagrees with you? If you got knowledge, use it! Put it to work! If you put it to work, it should justify beliefs that others cannot justifiably hold because they don't have the right evidence. If they had the right evidence, they'd be on your side! If I'm allowed to spot myself the possibility of knowledge in philosophy, I'll do it and I'll argue that the possibility of sameness of squishy stuff isn't enough to show that we ought to suspend judgment on controversial matters. It's a bit weird, isn't it, to say that someone ought to suspend judgment on something that they know to be true just because some careful but ignorant person with less evidence disagrees with them.

I take it that the standard way to try to defuse my way of trying to defuse the argument is to attack E=K. I think E=K is actually in much better shape than people think, but I appreciate that it's controversial. If it's false, I suppose it's false because it's too stingy or too liberal. If we weaken E=K by saying that K is too demanding, that doesn't undermine the point that I'm trying to make. If anything, this more liberal conception of evidence allows us to say that there's a wide range of cases in which peer 1s will have superior evidence that their colleagues don't have. If you tighten the possession requirements for evidence up so that knowledge isn't sufficient, you end up with the rather silly view that there's something wrong with treating known truths as reasons for believing things.

That could all be cleaned up, but I think that on one notion of peer, anyone who thinks that philosophical knowledge is possible should think that disagreeing peers are hard to find in the relevant range of cases. On the other notion of peer, peers are prevalent but they aren't terribly threatening.

Marcus Arvan

Clayton: I'm actually pretty sympathetic with that line of thought, and it was my initial response. I tend to believe my philosophical views only when I think I have strong evidence (e.g. new arguments) that dissenters have either overlooked or misunderstood--in other words, when I think I have good evidence they don't.

But of course here's a problem--one that I think arises especially if E=K. E=K is sort of an externalist view. From the *inside*, two people might have different views and think they have the same evidence/knowledge, but only one of them actually does (the other is mistaken). The problem then is this: how is one supposed to know from the inside whether you're the one with evidence/knowledge or the one without?

The problem here is: how does one know one is an epistemic peer in the relevant sense (e.g. sense 1), or not? It looks like the only way to assess one's standing is to pound the table and say, "Dammit, I have evidence/knowledge that they others don't have. I'm right, they're wrong. And here are the arguments that show it"...when all the while one's opponents think exactly the same thing in their own case! :)

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