Amended Restrictivism and Disagreement

I’ve been thinking about the connection between restrictivism and the equal weight view about rational disagreement. There are different versions of the equal weight view, but the rough idea is that the existence of disagreement has a tendency to undermine the rationality of one’s belief. What’s interesting is what kind of restrictivism must be accepted to undergird this view. In particular, the revised restrictivist position discussed here won’t be strong enough. Below the fold I say why.

Here’s the revised restrictivist view:

For any body of total evidence E, proposition p, and cognitive attitude A, either taking A toward p is forbidden or not taking A toward p is forbidden.

We accept this point with the idea that it leaves an individual open not to adopt any attitude at all toward propositions that could be rationally believed.

Suppose also that one accepts some version of evidentialism where the only things that count as evidence are mental states: mentalism, for short.

Then something interesting follows about those who think that when it is part of your evidence that there are epistemic peers who rationally disagree with you, you should turn agnostic on the issue on which you disagree. Given mentalism, you must believe the peer claim for it to be part of your evidence, and once it is, the equal weighters can appeal to the restrictivist position above to explain why the only appropriate attitude one can take is an agnostic one.

But here’s an interesting result of adopting this version of restrictivism. For the peer belief to be part of your evidence, you would presumably have other evidence that supports the peer belief. So suppose you do. Suppose I have exactly the same evidence (and no other relevant information), but I refuse to adopt any attitude toward the peer claim. Then the peer claim is not part of my evidence, and hence the restrictivist position above won’t imply that I need to be agnostic in order to be rational.

The point here is that there is pressure to find a middle position between the negatively characterized restrictivist position above and a more positive one that says that every permissible doxastic attitude is an obligatory one. This strong formulation founders on Harman’s cognitive efficiency objection, but the position of the equal weighters seems to require something closer to the strong restrictivist view in order to avoid the absurd result noted in the last paragraph. Whatever else we want to say about the equal weight view, we should say this: if you and I have the same evidence regarding the peer claim, then the mere fact that you believe the claim and I don’t shouldn’t make a difference as to whether our belief in the disputed claim is rational.


Comments

Amended Restrictivism and Disagreement — 5 Comments

  1. For the peer belief to be part of your evidence, you would presumably have other evidence that supports the peer belief. So suppose you do. Suppose I have exactly the same evidence (and no other relevant information), but I refuse to adopt any attitude toward the peer claim. Then the peer claim is not part of my evidence, and hence the restrictivist position above won’t imply that I need to be agnostic in order to be rational.

    Jon,
    The point about refusing to adopt an attitude toward peer beliefs raises an interesting problem. It looks inconsistent with what I think Foley calls ‘epistemic universalism’. Roughly, the fact that some peer has a belief, by itself, gives me some reason to believe it, too. If that’s true, then I have to consider the beliefs of my peers as evidential; I cannot refuse to adopt an epistemic attitude toward them. Of course it might not be the attitude of belief, but something short of that: perhaps something like partial belief. Maybe epistemic universalism is itself not especially credible. But the alternatives Foley discusses don’t fare much better.

  2. Hi Jon,

    thanks for the interesting post.

    Just one thing that bothers me, but maybe I’ve overlooked something. You say:

    “Suppose I have exactly the same evidence (and no other relevant information), but I refuse to adopt any attitude toward the peer claim.”

    Are you suggesting some kind of voluntary control over doxastic attitudes with the passage ‘refuse to adopt any attitude towards the peer claim’? If yes, doesn’t it make the theory you are attacking unnecessarily problematic? One could respond to your attack saying that there is no such thing as voluntary control over doxastic attitudes. If not, how am I supposed to understand this passage?

  3. Rodrigo, yes, it looks like it’s the language of choice, doesn’t it? We should treat such talk about belief as explicable in some way not requiring voluntary control (unless, of course, the view is defensible, as some hold). In the above case, we could treat the language of refusal in terms of having a character trait that causes me not to take any such attitude.

    Mike, I think the foley claim is only about the evidence that exists when somebody believes the claim. So if I know that you believe p, that’s evidence for me that p. But that’s still compatible with me taking no attitude toward p, not even if we think of attitudes as fine-grainedly as can be modelled probabilistically.

  4. Hi Jon,

    I believe you are right when you say that we could treat ‘the language of refusal in terms of having a character trait that causes me not to take any such attitude.’ The problem is: what character trait is that? This is surely a vice and not a virtue of someone’s character. It is certainly not a common character trait, I’d say. Otherwise we would have to admit that doxastic agents are normally insensitive to counterevidence which they have! This is just me, but I don’t feel comfortable with this idea.

  5. Yes, not following one’s evidence where it leads is a vice. Many have it, in spite of that fact. I hope it is not normal for humans to have it, but it is quite common.

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