Fundamental disagreements and the limits of instrumentalism

Synthese 196 (12):5009-5038 (2019)
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I argue that the skeptical force of a disagreement is mitigated to the extent that it is fundamental, where a fundamental disagreement is one that is driven by differences in epistemic starting points. My argument has three steps. First, I argue that proponents of conciliatory policies have good reason to affirm a view that I call “instrumentalism,” a view that commends treating our doxastic inclinations like instrumental readouts. Second, I show that instrumentalism supplies a basis for demanding conciliatory requirements in superficial disagreements but not in fundamental disagreements. Third, I argue that the frequently invoked “independence” principle, which arguably would require significant conciliation in fundamental disputes, is unmotivated in light of the explanatory power of instrumentalism. The most plausible conciliatory view, then, is a weak conciliationism that features instrumentalism rather than independence as the central principle, and that therefore gives us a principled basis for thinking that fundamental disagreements should occasion less doxastic revision than shallow disagreements.



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John Pittard
Yale University

Citations of this work

Disagreement.Jonathan Matheson & Bryan Frances - 2018 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Learning from Scientific Disagreement.Bruno Borge & Nicolás Lo Guercio - 2021 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 36 (3):375-398.

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Epistemology of disagreement: The good news.David Christensen - 2007 - Philosophical Review 116 (2):187-217.
Reflection and disagreement.Adam Elga - 2007 - Noûs 41 (3):478–502.
Peer disagreement and higher order evidence.Thomas Kelly - 2011 - In Alvin I. Goldman & Dennis Whitcomb (eds.), Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 183--217.
Warrant for nothing (and foundations for free)?Crispin Wright - 2004 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 78 (1):167–212.

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