Skip to main content

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? 


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?


Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

CfP: Inquiry: New Work on the Existence of God

In recent years, methods and concepts in logic, metaphysics and epistemology have become more and more sophisticated. For example, much new, subtle and interesting work has been done on modality, grounding, explanation and infinity, in both logic, metaphysics as well as epistemology. The three classical arguments for the existence of God – ontological arguments, cosmological arguments and fine-tuning arguments – all turn on issues of modality, grounding, explanation and infinity. In light of recent work, these arguments can - and to some extent have - become more sophisticated as well. Inquiry hereby calls for new and original papers in the intersection of recent work in logic, metaphysics and epistemology and the three main types of arguments for the existence of God. 

The deadline is 31 January 2017. Direct queries to einar.d.bohn at

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good. 0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this see…