Tag Archives: epistemology

G. H. Hardy

Classical scholars have, I believe, a general principle, difficilior lectio potior—the more difficult reading is to be preferred—in textual criticism. If the Archbishop of Canterbury tells one man that he believes in God, and another that he does not, then it is probably the second assertion which is true, since otherwise it is very difficult to understand why he should have made it, while there are many excellent reasons for his making the first whether it be true or false.

G. H. Hardy, Ramanujan: Twelve Lectures on Subjects Suggested by His Life and Work, Cambridge, 1940, p. 4

Henry Sidgwick

[T]he history of thought […] reveal[s] discrepancy between the intuitions of one age and those of a subsequent generation. But where the conflicting beliefs are not contemporaneous, it is usually not clear that the earlier thinker would have maintained his conviction if confronted by the arguments of the later. The history of thought, however, I need hardly say, affords abundant instances of similar conflict among contemporaries; and as conversions are extremely rare in philosophical controversy, I suppose the conflict in most cases affects intuitions—what is self-evident to one mind is not so to another. It is obvious that in any such conflict there must be error on one side or the other, or on both. The natural man will often decide unhesitatingly that the error is on the other side. But it is manifest that a philosophic mind cannot do this, unless it can prove independently that the conflicting intuitor has an inferior faculty of envisaging truth in general or this kind of truth; one who cannot do this must reasonably submit to a loss of confidence in any intuition of his own that thus is found to conflict with another’s.

Henry Sidgwick, ‘Further on the Criteria of Truth and Error’, in Marcus Singer (ed.), Essays on Ethics and Method, Oxford, 2000, p. 168

Adam Elga

Suppose that for twenty-eight years in a row, Consumer Reports rates itself as the #1 consumer ratings magazine. A picky reader might complain to the editors:

You are evenhanded and rigorous when rating toasters and cars. But you obviously have an ad hoc exception to your standards for consumer magazines. You always rate yourself #1! Please apply your rigorous standards across the board in the future.

This complaint has no force. The editors should reply:

To put forward our recommendations about toasters and cars is to put them forward as good recommendations. And we can’t consistently do that while also claiming that contrary recommendations are superior. So our always rating ourselves #1 does not result from an arbitrary or ad hoc exception to our standards. We are forced to rate ourselves #1 in order to be consistent with our other ratings.

Adam Elga, ‘How to Disagree about How to Disagree’, in Richard Feldman and Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Disagreement, Oxford, 2010

John McTaggart

I may be wrong in believing that matter exists independently of me. But the suggestion that I am wrong in believing I have a sensation is absurd. The belief is not sufficiently separable from the sensation for the possibility of error. I may, of course, be wrong in believing that I had a sensation in the past, for memory may deceive me. And I may be wrong in the general terms which I apply to a sensation, when I attempt to classify it, and to describe it to others. But my knowledge that I am having the sensation which I am having is one of those ultimate certainties which it is impossible either to prove or to deny.

John McTaggart, Human Immortality and Pre-existence, London, 1916, pp. 26-27

Thomas Kelly

That I find it unsettling that many people I know and respect disagree with me about the epistemic significance of disagreement is perhaps unsurprising. There are, after all, psychological studies that suggest that we are highly disposed to being greatly influenced by the views of others, and I have no reason to think that I am exceptional with respect to this particular issue. It is, of course, a different question whether the fact that many others disagree with my thesis provides a good reason for me to doubt that thesis. And my answer to this question, as might be expected, is ‘No’: because I accept the general thesis that known disagreement is not a good reason for skepticism, I do not, in particular, regard the fact that people disagree with me about this general thesis as a reason for being skeptical of it. Although I tend to find it somewhat unsettling that many disagree with my view, I am inclined to regard this psychological tendency as one that I would lack if I were more rational than I in fact am. In contrast to my psychological ambivalence, my considered, reflective judgment is that the fact that many people disagree with me about the thesis that disagreement is not a good reason for skepticism is not itself a good reason to be skeptical of the thesis that disagreement is not a good reason for skepticism.

Thomas Kelly, ‘The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement’, Oxford Studies in Epistemology, vol. 1 (2006), pp. 192-193

Stephen Stich

Many of us care very much whether our cognitive processes lead to beliefs that are true, or give us power over nature, or lead to happiness. But only those with a deep and free-floating conservatism in matters epistemic will care whether their cognitive processes are sanctioned by the evaluative standards tat happen to be woven into our language.

Stephen Stich, ‘Reflective Equilibrium, Analytic Epistemology and the Problem of Cognitive Diversity’, Synthese, vol. 74, no. 3 (March, 1988), p. 109