Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Quick Thought About the Phenomenon of Reasonable Religious Disagreement

Here's a hypothesis I'm toying with that's inspired by recent work in the pragmatic encroachment literature and the epistemology of disagreement literature (although it employs the notions from both bodies of literature in a bit of an unorthodox way):


Suppose that A and B are true epistemic peers, and that they are aware of the same body of evidence E for some religious proposition P. E pushes A to accept P; E fails to push B to accept P; A and B bring up the topic of P, and then discuss E. After patient and careful discussion of E, A and B still disagree about whether E is sufficient to put one in a position to know (or be justified in believing) that P is true. What's going on here? Are they both epistemically in the right, or has the awareness of their disagreement deflated their evidence at least a bit, (in which case they should each move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes)? 

Here's my tentative hypothesis: It depends. For w
hether one knows (or is justified in believing) something depends, at least in part, on the practical stakes involved in getting it right: higher practical stakes entail higher standards for knowledge (or justified belief); lower practical stakes entail lower standards for knowledge (or justified belief).   Therefore, if the practical stakes for (say) A are lower than they are for B with respect to P, then it might be that A is entitled to say that she knows (or is justified in believing) that P is true on the basis of E, and B is entitled to say that she doesn't know (or is justified in believing) that P is true on the basis of E. In other words, there might be cases where both are right to hold their current propositional attitudes, even after their discussion of the evidence. On the other hand, if it turns out that the practical stakes for A and B are the same with respect to P, then both A and B ought to move at least a bit closer toward the other in terms their propositional attitudes.  




In any case, that's the basic idea. Thoughts? 

2 comments:

cadfan17 said...

Higher or lower stakes might change the standard for what constitutes "knowledge," but it shouldn't change the standard for how persuasive a piece of evidence is.

"Tall" might mean something different on a basketball court versus at a high school prom, but 73 inches is the 73 inches in both places.

Frank said...

Interesting idea. I have a lot of thoughts, I'll try to be concise.

Your tentative hypothesis seems to make it difficult for two people to ever be true epistemic peers, as it creates an epistemology that is constantly in flux, depending on the individuals involved and the proposition in question. As a result, no two people can be said to be true epistemic peers unless the practical stakes of a proposition for each individual could be quantified (which would be difficult) and both parties agree on the resulting standards of knowledge.

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that both A and B are reasoning correctly and possess equal knowledge regarding the proposition, and we use your tentative hypothesis explain their disagreement, we arrive at the following conclusion: A and B disagree because their respective epistemologies are different--they are not epstemic peers.

What do you think?

Frank

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