This is the third installment in my series of synopses of essays on the philosophical significance of disagreement.
In “You Can’t Trust a Philosopher,” Richard Fumerton offers us good news and bad news. The good news is that epistemic peer disagreement (EPD) concerning philosophical issues does not, in itself, undermine the rational justification of philosophical views. The bad news is that, in explaining why, we discover a new, distinct defeater of the rational justification of philosophical views. Fumerton’s argument goes like this:
1. EPD undermines my rational justification for believing that P if there is good reason to believe that my epistemic peers are reliable when it comes to philosophical truth.
2. But there is not good reason to believe that my epistemic peers are reliable when it comes to philosophical truth–in fact, there is good reason to believe that they are quite unreliable when it comes to philosophical truth (pervasive, intractable disagreements, patterns of belief, like Brown University grad students more likely to be foundationalists, etc., etc..).
3. Thus, EPD does not undermine my rational justification for believing that P.
4. But my reasons for judging my epistemic peers unreliable when it comes to philosophical truth are also reasons for judging myself unreliable when it comes to philosophical truth!
5. Thus, if I believe that (3) because of (1) and (2), then I should also believe that (5a) I am unreliable when it comes to philosophical truth.
6. (5a) undermines my rational justification for believing that P!
As Fumerton puts it in the closing section of his essay, we’re “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” On Fumerton’s view, then, EPD does seem to have led us into a skeptical corner, albeit not as directly as others have suggested. Fumerton concludes on the somewhat forlorn note that all he can do, so far as he sees it, is continue to try to convince those of his epistemic peers with whom he disagrees that they are somehow epistemically disadvantaged in ways that he is not.
Two Possible Points of Interest:
*Fumerton and the other philosophers I’ve read thus far on the significance of disagreement seem to be assuming that EPD is always epistemically significant at least insofar as it must be reckoned with. If my EP disagrees with my claim that P, then, Fumerton and others seem to suggest, I have to either suspend judgment that P OR provide (be able to provide?) some plausible account of why I have reason to maintain my claim that P in light of EPD. This strikes me as interesting because those who argue that EPD does not always undermine rational justification sometimes present themselves as defending common sense and practice, but what they really seem to be defending is an epistemic position somewhere between just forging ahead in the accumulation and defense of one’s philosophical views (the common practice, I would submit) and suspending all judgment on philosophical issues. They are implying that EPD is something we must reckon with as such–it is not simply my peer’s objections to my position that I must grapple with, but the very fact that s/he disagrees.
*Fumerton’s essay introduced me to the Monty Hall Problem. Are OPers familiar with this? Maybe I’ll post it.