‘PEER DISAGREEMENT’ AND EVIDENCE OF EVIDENCE (pages 379-402)

John BIRO, Fabio LAMPERT

ABSTRACT: What the rational thing to do in the face of disagreement by an epistemic peer is has been much discussed recently. Those who think that a peer’s disagreement is itself evidence against one’s belief, as many do, are committed to a special form of epistemic dependence. If such disagreement is really evidence, it seems reasonable to take it into account and to adjust one’s belief accordingly. But then it seems that the belief one ends up with depends, in part, on what someone else believes, even if one does not know why that someone believes what he does. While the practical impossibility of finding actual cases of peer disagreement has been often noted, its conceptual possibility has gone unquestioned. Here we challenge this consensus and argue, first, that, strictly speaking, peer disagreement is impossible and, second, that cases of – all-too-common – near-peer disagreement present no special puzzle and require nothing more than adhering to standard principles of sensible epistemic conduct. In particular, we argue that in such cases there is no good reason to adopt the widely accepted principle that evidence of evidence is evidence. If so, even if one takes a near-peer’s disagreement as a reason for re-examining one’s belief, one is not epistemically dependent in the sense one would be if that disagreement were evidence concerning the matter in question.

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