The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 10, 2001

Philosophy of Science

Miriam Solomon
Pages 193-204

Consensus in Science

Because the idea of consensus in contemporary philosophy of science is typically seen as the locus of progress, rationality, and, often, truth, Mill’s views on the undesirability of consensus have been largely dismissed. The historical data, however, shows that there are many examples of scientific progress without consensus, thus refuting the notion that consensus in science has any special epistemic status for rationality, scientific progress (success), or truth. What needs to be developed instead is an epistemology of dissent. I suggest that normative accounts of dissent be used as prototypes for theories of scientific rationality that can also be applied to episodes of consensus. Consensus in this case is to be treated as a special case of dissent, when the amount of dissent approaches zero. My main goal in this paper is to sketch how a normative account of dissent that aims to capture the idea of epistemic fairness can apply to situations of consensus.