Philosophers often find themselves in disagreement with contemporary philosophers they know full well to be their epistemic superiors on the topics relevant to the disagreement. This looks epistemically irresponsible. I offer a detailed investigation of this problem of the reflective epistemic renegade. I argue that although in some cases the renegade is not epistemically blameworthy, and the renegade situation is significantly less common than most would think, in a troublesome number of cases in which the situation arises the renegade is (...) blameworthy in her disagreement with recognized epistemic superiors. I also offer some thoughts on what it would mean for philosophical practice for us to refrain from being renegades. Finally, I show how a new kind of radical skepticism emerges from modest theses regarding the renegade. (shrink)
Regardless of who you are or how you live your life, you disagree with millions of people on an enormous number of topics from politics, religion and morality to sport, culture and art. Unless you are delusional, you are aware that a great many of the people who disagree with you are just as smart and thoughtful as you are - in fact, you know that often they are smarter and more informed. But believing someone to be cleverer or more (...) knowledgeable about a particular topic usually won’t change your mind. Should it? This book is devoted to exploring this quandary - what should we do when we encounter disagreement, particularly when we believe someone is more of an authority on a subject than we are? The question is of enormous importance, both in the public arena and in our personal lives. Disagreement over marriages, beliefs, friendships and more causes immense personal strife. People with political power disagree about how to spend enormous amounts of money, about what laws to pass, or about wars to fight. If only we were better able to resolve our disagreements, we would probably save millions of lives and prevent millions of others from living in poverty. The first full-length text-book on this philosophical topic, Disagreement provides students with the tools they need to understand the burgeoning academic literature and its perspectives. Including case studies, sample questions and chapter summaries, this engaging and accessible book is the perfect starting point for students and anyone interested in thinking about the possibilities and problems of this fundamental philosophical debate. (shrink)
In epistemology the nagging voice of the sceptic has always been present, whispering that 'You can't know that you have hands, or just about anything else, because for all you know your whole life is a dream.' Philosophers have recently devised ingenious ways to argue against and silence this voice, but Bryan Frances now presents a highly original argument template for generating new kinds of radical scepticism, ones that hold even if all the clever anti-sceptical fixes defeat the traditional sceptic. (...) Sharp, witty, and fun to read, Scepticism Comes Alive will be highly provocative for anyone interested in knowledge and its limits. (shrink)
Isn’t there something like an amount and density of horrific suffering whose discovery would make it irrational to think God exists? Use your imagination to think of worlds that are much, much, much worse than you think Earth is when it comes to horrific suffering. Isn’t there some conceivable scenario which, if you were in it, would make you say “Ok, ok. God doesn’t exist, at least in the way we thought God was. We were wrong about that”? Pursuing this (...) question leads to what I call the Problem of Absurd Evil. (shrink)
Many philosophers are sceptical about the power of philosophy to refute commonsensical claims. They look at the famous attempts and judge them inconclusive. I prove that, even if those famous attempts are failures, there are alternative successful philosophical proofs against commonsensical claims. After presenting the proofs I briefly comment on their significance.
If you retain your belief upon learning that a large number and percentage of your recognized epistemic superiors disagree with you, then what happens to the epistemic status of your belief? I investigate that theoretical question as well has the applied case of philosophical disagreement—especially disagreement regarding purely philosophical error theories, theories that do not have much empirical support and that reject large swaths of our most commonsensical beliefs. I argue that even if all those error theories are false, either (...) (a) the average philosopher’s true commonsensical beliefs are epistemically impoverished, or (b) a good portion of philosophy is bunk and philosophers should give up most of their error theories despite the fact that their supporting arguments are generally as good as or even better than other philosophical arguments. (shrink)
A new kind of skepticism about philosophy is articulated and argued for. The key premise is the claim that many of us are well aware that in the past we failed to have good responses to substantive objections to our philosophical beliefs. The conclusion is disjunctive: either we are irrational in sticking with our philosophical beliefs, or we commit some other epistemic sin in having those beliefs.
This article argues, first, that there is plenty of agreement among philosophers on philosophically substantive claims, which fall into three categories: reasons for or against certain views, elementary truths regarding fundamental notions, and highly conditionalized claims. This agreement suggests that there is important philosophical progress. It then argues that although it's easy to list several potential kinds of philosophical progress, it is much harder to determine whether the potential is actual. Then the article attempts to articulate the truth that the (...) deniers of philosophical progress are latching on to. Finally, it comments on the significance of the agreement and progress. (shrink)
Many people with religious beliefs, pro or con, are aware that those beliefs are denied by a great number of others who are as reasonable, intelligent, fair-minded, and relatively unbiased as they are. Such a realization often leads people to wonder, “How do I know I’m right and they’re wrong? How do I know that the basis for my belief is right and theirs is misleading?” In spite of that realization, most people stick with their admittedly controversial religious belief. This (...) entry examines the epistemology of such belief retention, addressing issues of disagreement, agnosticism, skepticism, and the rationality of reflective religious belief. (shrink)
I’m going to argue for a set of restricted skeptical results: roughly put, we don’t know that fire engines are red, we don’t know that we sometimes have pains in our lower backs, we don’t know that John Rawls was kind, and we don’t even know that we believe any of those truths. However, people unfamiliar with philosophy and cognitive science do know all those things. The skeptical argument is traditional in form: here’s a skeptical hypothesis; you can’t epistemically neutralize (...) it, you have to be able to neutralize it to know P; so you don’t know P. But the skeptical hypotheses I plug into it are “real, live” scientific-philosophical hypotheses often thought to be actually true, unlike any of the outrageous traditional skeptical hypotheses (e.g., ‘You’re a brain in a vat’). So I call the resulting skepticism Live Skepticism. Notably, the Live Skeptic’s argument goes through even if we adopt the clever anti-skeptical fixes thought up in recent years such as reliabilism, relevant alternatives theory, contextualism, and the rejection of epistemic closure. Furthermore, the scope of Live Skepticism is bizarre: although we don’t know the simple facts noted above, many of us do know that there are black holes and other amazing facts. (shrink)
There is a long history of using facts about disagreement to argue that many of our most precious beliefs are false in a way that can make a difference in our lives. In this essay I go over a series of such arguments, arguing that the best arguments target beliefs that meet two conditions: (i) they have been investigated and debated for a very long time by a great many very smart people who are your epistemic superiors on the matter (...) and have worked very hard under optimal circumstances to figure out if the belief is true, and (ii) as far as you know these people have not come to any significant agreement on the belief and as far as you know those who agree with you are not, as a group, in a better position to judge the belief than those who disagree with you. (shrink)
Those of us who take skepticism seriously typically have two relevant beliefs: (a) it’s plausible (even if false) that in order to know that I have hands I have to be able to epistemically neutralize, to some significant degree, some skeptical hypotheses, such as the brain-in-a-vat (BIV) one; and (b) it’s also plausible (even if false) that I can’t so neutralize those hypotheses. There is no reason for us to also think (c) that the BIV hypothesis, for instance, is plausible (...) or probably true. In order to take skepticism seriously it’s sufficient to hold (a) and (b); one need not hold (c). Indeed, philosophers who accept (a) and (b) never endorse (c). Show me a philosopher who suspects that he is a brain in a vat and I’ll show you someone who is deranged! That’s one thing that bothers undergraduates in philosophy. They object: why on earth do some philosophers take the BIV hypothesis to pose any threat at all to our beliefs given that those very same philosophers think that there’s no real chance that the BIV hypothesis is true? Sure, the BIV hypothesis is formally inconsistent with my belief that I have hands, so if the former is true then my belief is false. But so what? Why should that bare inconsistency matter so much? Is this strange attitude amongst philosophers the result of some logic fetish infecting the philosophical community? It is sometimes said that the skeptical hypotheses are not only inconsistent with our beliefs but are explanatory of our experiences, which is supposed to make them more of a threat. But students aren’t fooled: although the skeptical hypotheses may attempt to explain why our experience is as it is, it’s the kind of attempt appropriate for science fiction movies that are all special effects and virtually no plot. No one with any sense of reality will take the evil demon hypothesis to be even tenuously explanatory. (shrink)
For years philosophers argued for the existence of distinct yet materially coincident things by appealing to modal and temporal properties. For instance, the statue was made on Monday and could not survive being flattened; the lump of clay was made months before and can survive flattening. Such arguments have been thoroughly examined. Kit Fine has proposed a new set of arguments using the same template. I offer a critical evaluation of what I take to be his central lines of reasoning.
We tend to think that philosophical progress, to the extent that it exists, is a good thing. I agree. Even so, it has some surprising unfortunate consequences for the rationality of philosophical belief.
Suppose you know that someone is your epistemic peer regarding some topic. You admit that you cannot think of any relevant epistemic advantage you have over her when it comes to that topic; you admit that she is just as likely as you to get P's truth-value right. Alternatively, you might know that she is your epistemic superior regarding the topic. And then after learning this about her you find out that she disagrees with you about P. In those situations (...) it appears that the confidence with which one holds one's belief should be significantly reduced. My primary goal in this essay is to present and reflect upon a set of cases of disagreement that have not been discussed in the literature but are vital to consider. I argue that in the new cases one is reasonable in not lowering one?s confidence in the belief. Then I articulate and defend an ambitious principle, the Disagreement Principle, meant to answer the question 'Under what conditions am I epistemically blameworthy in retaining my belief with the same level of confidence after I have discovered recognized peers or superiors who disagree with me?'. (shrink)
Philosophers defend, and often believe, controversial philosophical claims. Since they aren’t clueless, they are usually aware that their views are controversial—on some occasions, the views are definitely in the minority amongst the relevant specialist-experts. In addition, most philosophers are aware that they are not God’s gift to philosophy, since they admit their ability to track truth in philosophy is not extraordinary compared to that of other philosophers. In this paper I argue that in many real-life cases, such beliefs in controversial (...) claims are irrational. This means that most philosophers have irrational philosophical beliefs. (shrink)
In this article I offer a three-pronged defense of Millian theories, all of which share the rough idea that all there is to a proper name is its referent, so it has no additional sense. I first give what I believe to be the first correct analysis of Kripke’s puzzle and its anti-Fregean lessons. The main lesson is that the Fregean’s arguments against Millianism and for the existence of semantically relevant senses (that is, individuative elements of propositions or belief contents (...) that are sensitive to our varying personal conceptions of the referents of those elements) are viciously circular. Thus, the Fregean must give new arguments for her central claims. Second, I offer an original, positive argument for the Millian idea that the thoughts that Cicero was bald and that Tully was bald are identical. Incredibly, the argument appeals to nothing but highly intuitive, pre-theoretical principles regarding folk psychological usage—traditionally the source of Fregean intuitions. Third, I examine one of the most important recent papers on Kripke’s puzzle, that by David Sosa (1996). Sosa claims to have found a way to turn the tables on Kripke’s puzzle by using it to argue against Millian theories. I argue that Sosa’s argument on behalf of the Fregean is question-begging. I conclude that Millian theories can be seriously defended without any use of theoretical constructs such as guises or Russellian propositions, and Fregeans need to start over arguing for their theory’s central claims. (shrink)
For over a decade now epistemologists have been thinking about the peer disagreement problem of whether a person is reasonable in not lowering her confidence in her belief P when she comes to accept that she has an epistemic peer on P who disbelieves P. However, epistemologists have overlooked a key realistic way how epistemic peers can, or even have to, differ epistemically—a way that reveals the inadequacy of both conformist and non-conformist views on peer disagreement by uncovering how the (...) causes of peer disagreement bear on the debate’s core philosophical issue. Part of our argument for this thesis will involve giving a thorough yet entirely informal presentation of mathematical theorems in economics by Robert Aumann :1236–1239,1976) and Polemarchakis and Geneakoplos which represent a formally precise description of how two rational agents must deal with disagreement under certain epistemically interesting circumstances. (shrink)
By considering the epistemology and relations among certain philosophical problems, I argue for a disjunctive thesis: either (1) it is highly probable that there are (i) several (ii) mutually independent philosophical reductios of highly commonsensical propositions that are successful—so several aspects of philosophy have succeeded at refuting common sense—or (2) there is enough hidden semantic structure in even simple sentences of natural language to make philosophers highly unreliable at spotting deductive validity in some of the simplest cases—so we are much (...) worse at logic than we think and cannot, in general, know when our own arguments are valid. The untoward consequences of each disjunct are explained. (shrink)
Philosophical expertise consists in knowledge, but it is controversial what this knowledge consists in. I focus on three issues: the extent and nature of knowledge of philosophical truths, how this philosophical knowledge is related to philosophical progress, and skeptical challenges to philosophical knowledge.
One of Moore’s paradoxical sentence types is ‘P, but I believe ~P’. Mooreans have assumed that all tokens of that sentence type are absurd in some way: epistemically, pragmatically, semantically, or assertively. And then they proceed to debate what the absurdity really is. I argue that if one has the appropriate philosophical views, then one can rationally assert tokens of that sentence type, and one can be epistemically reasonable in the corresponding compound belief as well.
Content externalism is the dominant view in the philosophy of mind. Content essentialism, the thesis that thought tokens have their contents essentially, is also popular. And many externalists are supporters of such essentialism. However, endorsing the conjunction of those views either (i) commits one to a counterintuitive view of the underlying physical nature of thought tokens or (ii) commits one to a slightly different but still counterintuitive view of the relation of thought tokens to physical tokens as well as a (...) rejection of realist physicalism. In this essay I reveal the problem and articulate and adjudicate among the possible solutions. I will end up rejecting content essentialism. (shrink)
In this essay I try to motivate and formulate the main epistemological questions to ask about the phenomenon of religious disagreement. I will not spend much time going over proposed answers to those questions. I address the relevance of the recent literature on the epistemology of disagreement. I start with some fiction and then, hopefully, proceed with something that has at least a passing acquaintance with truth.
We all can identify many contemporary philosophy professors we know to be theists of some type or other. We also know that often enough their nontheistic beliefs are as epistemically upstanding as the non-theistic beliefs of philosophy professors who aren’t theists. In fact, the epistemic-andnon-theistic lives of philosophers who are theists are just as epistemically upstanding as the epistemic-and-non-theistic lives of philosophers who aren’t theists. Given these and other, similar, facts, there is good reason to think that the pro-theistic beliefs (...) of theistic philosophers are frequently epistemically upstanding. Given their impeccable epistemic credentials on non-theistic matters, the amount of careful thought that lies behind their theism, the large size of the community of philosophical theists, as well as other, similar facts, it would be surprising if all or even most of their pro-theistic beliefs were epistemically blameworthy in some or other signicant sense tied to charges such as ‘He should know better than to believe that’ (so mere false belief need not be blameworthy in this sense; the use of ‘blameworthy’ will be claried below). Of course some of the pro-theistic beliefs of some theistic philosophers are epistemically blameworthy; the mere large numbers of fallible theistic philosophers almost guarantees it. My point here is that it would be unexpected if most of the pro-theistic beliefs of theistic philosophers were epistemically blameworthy. (shrink)
An analysis of the Third Man Argument, especially in light of Constance Meinwald's book Plato's Parmenides. I argue that her solution to the TMA fails. Then I present my own theory as to what Plato's solution was.
Many philosophers have used premises about concepts and rationality to argue that the protagonists in the various Twin Earth thought experiments do not have the concepts that content externalists say they have. This essay argues that this popular internalist argument is flawed in many different ways, and more importantly it cannot be repaired in order to cast doubt on externalism.
The Burge-Putnam thought experiments have generated the thesis that beliefs are not fixed by the constitution of the body. However, many philosophers have thought that if this is true then there must be another content-like property. Even if the contents of our attitudes such as the one in ‘believes that aluminum is a light metal’, do not supervene on our physical makeups, nevertheless people who are physical duplicates must be the same when it comes to evaluating their rationality and explaining (...) their actions. I argue that the considerations motivating this view are best handled with just the ordinary ‘that’-clause contents. (shrink)
Many highly educated people think religious belief is irrational and unscientific. If you ask a philosopher, however, you'll likely get two answers: most religious belief is rational in some respects and irrational in other respects. In this essay I explain why they think religious belief is rational. In a sequel essay I explain why they think the very same beliefs are irrational.
One of the hardest problems in philosophy, one that has been around for over two thousand years without generating any significant consensus on its solution, involves the concept of vagueness: a word or concept that doesn't have a perfectly precise meaning. There is an argument that seems to show that the word or concept simply must have a perfectly precise meaning, as violently counterintuitive as that is. Unfortunately, the argument is usually so compressed that it is difficult to see why (...) exactly the problem is so hard to solve. In this article I attempt to explain just why it is that the problem – the sorites paradox – is so intractable.Export citation. (shrink)
Although metaphysics has made an impressive comeback over the past half century, there are still a great many philosophers today who think it is bullshit, under numerous precisifications of ‘That’s just bullshit’ so that it’s a negative assessment and doesn’t apply to most philosophy. One encounters this attitude countless times in casual conversations, social media, and occasionally in print. Is it true?
Many highly educated people think religious belief is irrational and unscientific. If you ask a philosopher, however, you'll likely get two answers: most religious belief is rational in some respects and irrational in other respects. In my previous essay I explained why they think so many religious beliefs are rational. In this essay I explain why they think those same beliefs are irrational.
I first argue that, contrary to many atheistic philosophers, there is good reason to think the typical theistic philosopher’s retaining of her theism when faced with the Problem of Evil is comparatively epistemically upstanding even if both atheism is true and the typical theistic philosopher has no serious criticism of the atheist’s premises in the PoE argument. However, I then argue that, contrary to many theistic philosophers, even if theism is true, the typical theistic philosopher has no good non-theistic reasons (...) for rejecting any of the atheist’s premises, and she has good non-theistic reasons in favor of the atheist’s premises. In that respect, it’s extremely difficult for the theistic philosopher to respond to the PoE in an informative, non-question-begging way. I close by considering whether theistic philosophers should reject my second thesis. (shrink)
I explain why research in non-applied, non-interdisciplinary, non-historical philosophy is worthwhile. The key move in the explanation is the realization that many philosophical problems can be put in the form of a set of highly plausible yet apparently jointly inconsistent claims regarding a fundamental notion.Export citation.
I argue that, for all we know, there are perfectly ordinary actual entities that are temporal in the usual sense and yet never present, past, or future. This epistemic fact requires us to modify the theses of presentism and eternalism. More importantly, it generates three new and quite serious objections to presentism, which I formulate and partially evaluate in this paper.
Saul Kripke's puzzle about belief demonstrates the lack of soundness of the traditional argument for the Fregean fundamental principle that the sentences 'S believes that a is F' and 'S believes that b is F' can differ in truth value even if a = b. This principle is a crucial premise in the traditional Fregean argument for the existence of semantically relevant senses, individuative elements of beliefs that are sensitive to our varying conceptions of what the beliefs are about. Joseph (...) Owens has offered a new argument for this fundamental principle, one that is not subject to Kripke's criticisms. I argue that even though Owens' argument avoids Kripke's criticisms, it has other flaws. (shrink)
When pressed, many atheists offer three reasons why they reject theism: there is strong evidence against theism, there is no strong evidence for theism, and theism is so outrageous that it needs a great deal of support in order for us to believe it in a reasonable manner. I examine the third reason, arguing that it fails.
The literature on material composition has largely ignored the composition of actions and events. I argue that this is a mistake. I present a set of individually plausible yet jointly inconsistent claims regarding the connection between quantification and existence, the composition of physical entities and the logical forms of action sentences.
Millianism is reasonable; that is, it is reasonable to think that all there is to the semantic value of a proper name is its referent. But Millianism appears to be undermined by the falsehood of Substitutivity, the principle that interchanging coreferential proper names in an intentional context cannot change the truth value of the resulting belief report. Mary might be perfectly rational in assenting to ‘Twain was a great writer’ as well as ‘Clemens was not a great writer’. Her confusion (...) does not seem to preclude her from assenting to those sentences in a normal, understanding manner. That is, Assent-for-Mary is true: Mary can knowingly assent to ‘Twain was a great writer’ and ‘Clemens was not a great writer’. By Disquotation—the rough principle that if in ordinary circumstances one assents to “P”, then one believes that P—Mary believes that Twain was a great writer and she believes that it’s not the case that Clemens was a great writer. If Substitutivity were true, then since ‘Mary believes that Twain was a great writer’ is true, ‘Mary believes that Clemens was a great writer’ would have to be true too. But then Mary would amount to a refutation of the plausible principle Consistency that, roughly put, no rational adult can have occurrently held and reflectively considered and compared contradictory beliefs. Since Disquotation, Assent-for-Mary, and Consistency are true, Substitutivity has to go. (shrink)
In this essay (for undergraduates) I introduce three of the famous semantic paradoxes: the Liar, Grelling’s, and the No-No. Collectively, they seem to show that the notion of truth is highly paradoxical, perhaps even contradictory. They seem to show that the concept of truth is a bit akin to the concept of a married bachelor—it just makes no sense at all. But in order to really understand those paradoxes one needs to be very comfortable thinking about how lots of interesting (...) sentences talk about not dogs or cats or elections or baseball but sentences. That is, we need to get familiar analyzing sentences that talk about sentences. (shrink)
I say that it’s philosophically inexpensive because I think it is more convincing than any other Twin-Earth thought experiment in that it sidesteps many of the standard objections to the usual thought experiments. I also discuss narrow contents and give an analysis of Putnam’s original argument.