Peer disagreement and two principles of rational belief

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final version: Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93(2), 2015: 273-286

Theodore J. Everett

This paper presents a new solution to the problem of peer disagreement that distinguishes two principles of rational belief, here called probability and autonomy. When we discover that we disagree with peers, there is one sense in which we rationally ought to suspend belief, and another in which we rationally ought to retain our original belief. In the first sense, we aim to believe what is most probably true according to our total evidence, including testimony from peers and authorities. In the second, we aim to base our beliefs only on objective evidence and argumentation, even if that lowers the probability of their being true. The first principle of rational belief tends to serve the short-term epistemic interests of individuals, while the second tends to serve the long-term epistemic interests of both individuals and groups. The best way to reconcile these principles in cases of peer disagreement is to associate them with two corresponding species of belief, here called perception and opinion.
Keywords: disagreement, epistemic peer, rationality, belief

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