Sunday, December 19, 2010


This debate with Roy Sorenson and David Christensen is about the topic of conciliationism which Christensen defends. This is simply the view that if you hold the belief P and you also believe that another person who is your epistemic equal holds the belief ~P, you should update your belief so that it now has half the confidence it had before. I once read another quite good paper defending this view too I think by Adam Elga.

Many philosophers found this position hard to swallow as there are many philosophical views on any subject. Philosophers may rationally (with good justification) hold the mutually exclusive views P, Q, R, S,...on the same issue. Does that mean they should dilute their confidence by as many folds since presumably all their peers are equally (or roughly so) capable?

The position is very attractive to me but it has dawned on me that there is one way to make the position in practice not as hard to swallow. One mitigating effect which in practice will not reduce one's confidence as much even in the face of contrary points of views from one's epistemic peers is especially relevant to philosophical topics.

Many philosophical points of views though prima facie contradictory are not really so under close scrutiny because it is often shown that there was a subtle difference in underlying understanding of terms. In other words, many times two (or more) opposing sides are not really at odds at all but had been "talking past one another." Both sides could have been right all along; it's just that they had been right along different lines. The debate, for example, between evidentialism and some other contradictory view on epistemology might stem from different underlying conceptions of what a belief is. Therefore, on some conception of what beliefs are, evidentialism may be more accurate a view and on another slightly different understanding (which are not first apparent to the sides arguing) the other side's version is more accurate.

It would take conceptual analysis to expose the subtle differences responsible for the confusion and pseudo-debate. In practice, I would expect that the lessening of confidence may be mitigated somewhat by this but whether enough so to satisfy many of conciliationism's criticisms is doubtful. I do think that if this is so then they would just have to lessen their confidence in their beliefs in all their philosophical ideas including their stance against conciliationism.