Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Epistemology of Disagreement and Rationally Permissible Theistic Belief

Alvin Plantinga has asserted that if, after careful consideration of the evidence for and against a proposition, P, one still finds P persuasive, then one is in one's epistemic rights in believing P.[1] Relatedly, Peter van Inwagen has asserted that one can be justified in believing P, despite being unable to convince a true epistemic peer, if she enjoys an incommunicable insight into the evidence for P that her epistemic peer lacks.[2]

A key implication of Plantinga's and van Inwagen's theses is supposed to be that a theist can be epistemically justified or epistemically blameless in believing in God if, despite the existence of genuine epistemic peer disagreement, they have carefully considered the evidence for and against such belief, and still find that belief persuasive (Plantinga), perhaps in virtue of an incommunicable insight into the evidence for theism that their epistemic peers lack (van Inwagen).

The problem is that recent work in the epistemology of disagreement raises serious problems for these sorts of theses. The basic idea is that when one becomes aware that a true epistemic peer disagrees with you about some proposition P, then this provides an undercutting defeater for your belief that P. For a powerful recent defense of this point, and one that directly addresses Plantinga's and van Inwagen's theses above, see Earl Conee's paper, "Peerage" (draft: do not cite without permission from the author).

(Relatedly, this provides a substantive challenge to Plantinga's claim that it's absurdly easy to meet the demands of internalist rationality and justified belief).

Yet another example of the relevance of the epistemology of disagreement debate to issues in philosophy of religion.
[1] The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 218-221.
[2] "Is It Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence?"

1 comment:

Luke said...

Once again with the hot linkage. Thanks!

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