Free Willers and the Epistemology of Disagreement by Peers

Following up on the last post about the epistemological status of belief in free will, I suspect that the argument against free-willers (that they are hard-hearted) depends implicitly on the fact that it is a decidedly minority view, and if that’s right, one of the issues is the epistemic significance of disagreement by peers, which has been discussed here before. Here’s one more argument against a strong role for such disagreement. Let the issues and arguments surrounding free will be just as they are at present, with all parties aware of all the issues and the arguments of their opponents. Then let the non-epistemic facts change, that is, let the practical situation of the world change dramatically enough that all the non-free-willers change their view. (Maybe the free-willers convince by a Pascalian argument that belief in free will is somehow essential to a well-ordered society, and the social fabric is disintegrating so much that theory becomes commitment.) So, apart from the agreement/disagreement issue, nothing epistemic has changed. But now everyone agrees, and if the hypothesis is that disagreement by one’s peers is epistemically relevant, then our situation, in spite of the description, put the free-willers in an epistemically advantaged position over their present situation.

Moreover, the case is also relevant to the position that holds that agreement by peers is evidence in favor of a view. The elimination of disagreement by peers might improve one’s epistemic situation by eliminating defeaters, but the creation of additional evidence is another matter. In the present case, both positions must find the description given above incoherent–the description that it’s pragmatic features alone that have changed the situation.

One might add to the case, of course, so that additional factors come into play. For example, some free-willer might have such enormous respect for a particular non-free-willer that this other person was trusted more than oneself on the issue at hand. In such a case, the situation would be different from the way I described it above, since it would undermine the attitude of confidence and trust in one’s own competence regarding the issue at hand, an attitude that I take to be central to lacking internal defeaters for what one’s positive evidence confirms. In addition, we could add to the case that the universal agreement on free will would itself create a stronger seeming state among free willers concerning the existence of free will. Again, let’s limit the case so that such additional factors are not present.

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