Crash Course: Epistemology of Disagreement


Around four years ago, I had a short-lived “Crash Course” series of posts here at Daily Nous. 

The idea came from Natalie Cecire, a professor of English at Sussex. At the time, she was interested in creating “one-week self-education programs” in a variety of areas in her field, intended for “students who suddenly need to get up to speed in a field, and don’t have time to take a course or immerse themselves in it for a year… [but] can’t just coast on glib summaries anymore.”

We had three installments of the series: one on metaethics, one on environmental philosophy, and one on causation. They were moderately successful (I can’t quite remember what, at the time, put me off continuing it) and I think it is worth trying again—particularly in light of a recent email from a graduate student asking for just this sort of thing.

Zola Weinberg, “Points” (detail)

The “syllabi” for crash courses should be made mainly of primary-source readings. Of course, some online resources (such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy), and various commentaries and textbooks are useful, too, but let’s keep the suggestions here to substantive primary works on the subject—books and articles—keeping in mind that it’s supposed to be a crash course and not a semester’s worth of readings. It should be reasonable to expect someone to complete the set of readings in one to three weeks.

One challenge is figuring out how narrow the topics for the crash courses should be. I’ve picked a relatively narrow topic for this installment. Let’s see how it goes.

Today’s crash course topic is the epistemology of disagreement. Please share your suggestions in the comments. Thank you!


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Bryan Frances
1 year ago

I think the SEP entry by Jonathan Matheson and myself would do just fine, as it starts out introductory but ends up rather advanced. A good deal of it is “substantive”!Report

Bob
Bob
1 year ago

Kelly- “The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement.”
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Matt Benton
Matt Benton
1 year ago

Tom Kelly’s paper listed above. Also: two by David Christensen, his Phil Review article, plus a Philosophy Compass overview piece:

https://philpapers.org/rec/CHREOD

https://philpapers.org/rec/CHREODReport

Paul
Paul
1 year ago

One might select a few from the 470 listings under “Epistemology of Disagreement” at PhilPapers:
https://philpapers.org/browse/epistemology-of-disagreementReport

Will M.
Will M.
1 year ago

Landemore – “Beyond the Fact of Disagreement? The Epistemic Turn in Deliberative Democracy” Report

Frederick
Frederick
1 year ago

For some work on non-peer disagreement:
“The Epistemic Significance of Religious Disagreements: Cases of Unconfirmed Superiority Disagreements,” https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-018-9599-4Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

I’m (almost) limiting myself to one article per day over the course of one week. I would read them in this order:

0. Peter van Inwagen, “It Is Wrong Everywhere, Always, for Anyone, to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence” (this was written before the big disagreement discussion started, which is why I’m giving it a “0” instead of a “1”, but it’s often referred to, and it’s easy and fun to read, so I’m including it)
1. Richard Feldman, “Reasonable Religious Disagreements”
2. Thomas Kelly, “The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement”
3. David Christensen, “Epistemology of Disagreement: The Good News”
4. Jennifer Lackey, “A Justificationist View of Disagreement’s Epistemic Significance”
5. Thomas Kelly, “Peer Disagreement and Higher Order Evidence”
6. David Enoch, “Not Just a Truthometer: Taking Oneself Seriously (but not Too Seriously) in Cases of Peer Disagreement”
7. Nathan L. King, “Disagreement: What’s the Problem? Or a Good Peer Is Hard to Find” Report

Vaughn
Vaughn
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

I just want to say that on all four threads about these crash courses I think this is the best comment so far, as it most closely conforms to the basic idea: not too many readings to the point that it’s not really a “1-week crash course”, but enough that it has a plan and structure to it and isn’t just one or two idiosyncratic tossed-off suggestions. The point is to give someone a *coherent set* of readings that is of a manageable length, as a *starting* point rather than an ending point, and I think your comment does that beautifully (although I am not familiar with the disagreement literature myself, so I can’t judge the *contents* of your list). Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Thanks very much, guys! If you’d like, I can also give brief descriptions of each essay (except the Enoch one, which i’d have to reread). Report

Vaughn
Vaughn
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Justin, I wonder if it might be productive to put out a *general* call for these; that is, a thread where anyone could contribute a crash course on their area of expertise, with the expectation that it would not be just one or two suggestions but rather a coherent set of 5-10 carefully-chosen readings like Robert’s, perhaps also including suggestions of journals to go to as a next step (like Natalie’s original ones). Report

Vaughn
Vaughn
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Yep, I can definitely understand wanting to keep the discussion to a reasonable length.

I realized after I posted my comment, though, that I probably should have included my reasoning, which didn’t have to do with topics being more findable. Rather, I think that doing a single thread for all topics would produce lists that are more useful. Looking at the results of the threads so far (with the exception of Robert’s comment), my impression is that doing them as topic-based encourages a crowdsourcing mindset that causes people not to pay as much attention to the *coherence* of their suggestions with each other, and instead to suggest either only one or two readings or a whole laundry list. The usefulness of the exercise (for those who will use the lists) lies not in the *individual readings* suggested, but in the generation of *curated lists* of 5-10 readings that, when read together, and perhaps in a particular order, constitute a good entry point into a topic. In a thread on a single topic I think people are more likely to think of *the thread as a whole* as the resource, and their individual comment as just one small contribution to it, and so suggest a reading or two rather than a coherent set of 5-10, while in a thread with no topic restrictions people are more likely to think in terms of creating a coherent set of readings about whatever topic they personally have expertise in.

Perhaps another way to get these curated lists while keeping the threads oriented to one topic at a time would be to, after the thread had been open for a while, have someone go through the suggested readings and synthesize the suggestions into a single list of 5-10 readings (or perhaps 20 readings if we’re aiming at 3 weeks instead of 1 week). But my sense is that anyone qualified to do that would also have been qualified to simply give a list of 5-10 readings to begin with.

Although, I can see a different case for doing them as topic-based threads, which is that different experts in the same topic might generate different lists, and it might be useful to compare the lists that different people would generate in order to reduce idiosyncracies and bias. But I suspect that any list that tries to cover a whole field in only 5-10 readings will be somewhat idiosyncratic, and that having many such lists to choose from on a single topic will simply result in choice paralysis, with newcomers wondering “which list is best to use?” instead of just having one list and using it.

(As an aside, I think topics would be fairly searchable even in a long thread; just put in the OP that people should use Ctrl+F to find whatever topic they’re looking for. Or you could make the OP into a sort of table of contents by editing it whenever someone adds a new topic to add a link to their comment, though that would be a lot of work, probably too much.)Report

mrmister
mrmister
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

This is a very good crash course to the papers that really laid out the initial understanding of the debate, but I think it leaves out some important progress that has been made since. On that front, I would militate for including Miriam Schoenfield’s “An Accuracy-Based Approach to Higher Order Evidence” (PPR).

If I had to also take something else off to compensate, it would be either the second Kelly or the Lackey paper, as they are both good papers but the positive views represented are structurally quite similar (I haven’t read the King paper, though, so I can’t make a fully informed choice on that front).Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  mrmister
1 year ago

Yeah, my list was definitely meant to capture the first moment of the disagreement debate. Those articles focused on the question, “if two epistemic peers disagree about P, then how should we react to that?”

Things have definitely moved on to other issues since then (like: what about disagreeing with an epistemic *superior* rather than a peer? What significance does it have if most of a field things X, but a significant minority thinks ~X?”) I included the King article as a kind of future directions thing — instead of asking how we should feel about peer disagreement, the King article goes into “what does it mean to say that someone is a peer, exactly? And how do we know *that*?” Report

Animal Symbolicum
Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

Robert, or anyone who’s into this stuff:

Isn’t a worthy part of the literature on disagreement devoted to the phenomenon of deep disagreement? (See Fogelin, R. (1985 [2005]). The logic of deep disagreements. Informal Logic 7(1), 3–11, for the inaugural statement.)

Since the object of this exercise is to give one a sense of the state of the field, then please ignore my suggestion if the idea of deep disagreement hasn’t attracted lively discussion.

But also: so much the worse for the field, if it’s ignoring such a rich and currently relevant idea. Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
1 year ago

I think there was some focus on deep disagreements a little later, under the guise of interrogating just what it means for someone to be a peer. Besides the King article, there’s also Benjamin Wald’s “Dealing with Disagreement: Distinguishing Two Types of Epistemic Peers” and Mark Vorobej’s “Distant Peers”, among others. Report

Animal Symbolicum
Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

Cool. Thanks. I’ll check these out.Report

Jon Matheson
Jon Matheson
Reply to  Animal Symbolicum
1 year ago

Michael Lynch, Chris Ranalli, and Klemens Kappel all have more recent papers on this, and there’s also a special issue of TOPOI dedicated to the topic. I don’t think the special issue is out yet, but a number of the articles that will be contained in it are already available online there.Report

Animal Symbolicum
Animal Symbolicum
Reply to  Jon Matheson
1 year ago

Thank you, Jon.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
1 year ago

Maybe it doesn’t count as substantive, but Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, pp. 341-2.Report

Jon Matheson
Jon Matheson
1 year ago

I think Robert’s list nails it, and I’m also partial to Bryan’s suggestion 🙂
I would only add Elga’s “How to Disagree About How to Disagree” just to get something focused on the self-defeat worry.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Jon Matheson
1 year ago

FWIW, Jon’s book (_The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement_) is both a great overview of the field and a great defense of conciliationism. I highly recommend it! Report

Paul
Paul
1 year ago

Asking for a crowd-sourced “crash course” in any subject one is truly interested in is both intellectually lazy and terribly inefficient. Who knows from where such random results come from or what they will yield?

You are busy and have no time to waste.

No one knows what you know and what you don’t know, or where you come from and where you want to go, not even yourself. Only you can find out what is precisely relevant to your needs , right now, by actively researching a question or problem for everything available, online and offline. Your goal-directed activity in scratching your intellectual itch is the shortest path from ignorance to knowledge. Trust yourself, not others.

Any student of any age and of any subject under the sun who has not closely read and adapted to their particular quests the lessons learnable from Thomas Mann (reference librarian of the Library of Congress) in his boo,k “The Oxford Guide to Library Research” (4th ed., 2015), is likely wasting both their money and the time of themselves and others.
https://www.amazon.com/Oxford-Guide-Library-Research/dp/0199931062

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Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Paul
1 year ago

ok manReport

Paul
Paul
1 year ago

Justin, a suggestion for any future “crash courses”: help your wannabe helpers as well as your SEO.

End your post with links to most relevant articles in the standard specialized encyclopedias of philosophy; not only those freely available online, like SEP & IEP, but also citing other reputable sources in print &/or behind paywalls, such as EP2e & REP. Where applicable, link or cite sub-specialty encyclopedias from Oxford, Routledge, Cambridge. Finally, vitally, be sure to link to the most relevant PhilPapers topic and, if available, the Oxford Bibliographies Online, a model resource, albeit paywalled.

If there is no response, you will have still have served the enquirer; alternatively, you will have enabled self-selected expert recommendations from a convenient list of recognized secondary sources, undoubtedly the first recourse of a crash courser in any case.

Looking at this topic, it is worth noting that the SEP article by Bryan Frances (PhilPapers topic maintainer) and Jonathan Matheson included all of the articles helpfully selected and ordered by Robert A Gressis.

Justin, do not denigrate secondary sources such as those mentioned: they are vital for those outside the field. Overlaps, for instance, tell a story to neophytes.Report

Andrew
Andrew
Reply to  Paul
1 year ago

Yes, Justin, please spend more time and energy developing this resource for which Paul and I pay absolutely nothing.

Gift. Horse. Mouth. Report

Nathan M Nobis
1 year ago

“The Epistemology of Disagreement” by Jonathan Matheson at 1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology:

https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2018/05/14/the-epistemology-of-disagreement/Report

krell_154
krell_154
1 year ago

I didn’t see anyone recommend Foley’s work yet, so here I am referring you to his paper:

”Rationality and intellectual self-trust”, in William Ramsey & Michael R. DePaul (eds.), Rethinking Intuition: The Psychology of Intuition and its Role in Philosophical Inquiry. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. pp. 241–56 (1998)

and his book, which deals with very similar topics:

”Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others”, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Foley focuses on the issue of self-trust (basically, invulnerability to self-criticism, or self-defeat), which can be used in defending a steadfast (non-conciliatorist) position in the disagreement debate.Report

Ruth
Ruth
1 year ago

I’m old fashioned, but I’d add the Gorgias to any list.
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Murali
Murali
1 year ago

Actually, can I just point to Feldman and Warfield eds Disagreement (2010)
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