Volume 53, 2008
Theory of Knowledge
A Justificationist View of Disagreement’s Epistemic Significance
The question that will be the focus of this paper is this: what is the significance of disagreement between those who are epistemic peers? There are two answers to this question found in the recent literature. On the one hand, there are those who hold that one can continue to rationally believe that p despite the fact that one’s epistemic peer explicitly believes that not-p. I shall call those who hold this view nonconformists. In contrast, there are those who hold that one cannot continue to rationally believe that p when one is faced with an epistemic peer who explicitly believes that not-p. I shall call those who hold this view conformists. In
this paper, I shall argue that neither nonconformism nor conformism provides a plausible account of the epistemic significance of peer disagreement. I shall then develop my justificationist account of peer disagreement’s epistemic significance. Whereas current views maintain that disagreement, by itself, either simply does or does not possess epistemic power, my account holds that its epistemic power, or lack thereof, is explainable in terms of its interaction with other features,
particularly the degree of justified confidence with which the belief in question is held and the presence of information that one possesses about one’s own epistemic situation.