Self-Favoring Theories and the Bias Argument (pages 199-213)


ABSTRACT: In a recent article, Bernáth and Tőzsér (2021) defend what they call the Bias Argument, a new skeptical argument from expert peer disagreement. They argue that the best contrastive causal explanation for disagreement among leading experts in philosophy is that they adopt their positions in a biased way. But if the leading experts are biased, non-experts either are also biased or only avoid bias through epistemic inferiority. Recognizing this is expected to prompt one to decrease one’s confidence in one’s philosophical beliefs. This paper argues that some beliefs are immune to a key premise of the Bias Argument. To show this, the paper develops the concepts of self-favoring theories, decisive support, and standing-incommensurable disagreements. A plausible example of a self-favoring theory, dubbed Mere Reformed Protestantism, is sketched. Many disagreements over self-favoring theories and over beliefs decisively supported by self-favoring theories are shown to be standing-incommensurable. It is then argued that when non-experts are in standing-incommensurable disagreements with experts, the standards of assessing expertise are themselves controverted. This result undercuts the move in the Bias Argument from expert bias to non-expert bias. Finally, a couple reservations about the role of self-favoring theories in philosophy are addressed.

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