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Logos & Episteme

Volume 4, Issue 2, 2013

Nicholas Tebben
Pages 179-197

Peer Disagreement and the Limits Of Coherent Error Attribution

I argue that, in an important range of cases, judging that one disagrees with an epistemic peer requires attributing, either to one's peer or to oneself, a failure of rationality. There are limits, however, to how much irrationality one can coherently attribute, either to oneself or to another. I argue that these limitations on the coherent attribution of rational error put constraints on permissible responses to peer disagreement. In particular, they provide reason to respond to one-off disagreements with a single peer by maintaining one's beliefs, and they provide reason to moderate one's beliefs when faced with repeated disagreement, or disagreement with multiple peers. Finally, I argue that, though peer disagreement is rare, the occasions on which it does occur tend to be especially important, and the kind of response supported here is correspondingly important. In particular, how leading researchers spend their time and effort depends, in part, on how they respond to peer disagreement. And only a response of the kind supported here strikes the right balance between allowing individual researchers to freely pursue what seems to them to be worthwhile projects, and requiring that they pursue those research projects that the community of experts as a whole believes to be likely to yield significant results.

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