Is Bill Gates involved in a COVID-19 conspiracy?
Disagreement is of interest to philosophers: philosophical argument generates genuine disagreement between people, with epistemologists, aptly, arguing about ways to settle their debates.
This isn’t about preferences: e.g. we’ll never agree on the best album of all time (you’re wrong). This is about uncoverable (at least in theory) facts. Does MMR vaccination lead to autism? Is human-induced climate change occurring? Are radio waves causally associated with cancer incidence? With access to the same information, intelligent, agreeable people disagree on what the facts of the matters are.
So who has the final say? Are some arguments ‘unsettleable’?
An issue: ‘experts’ get things wrong.
Consider sports pundits, who are brought onto TV to discuss tactics. They may, for example, have experience of (A) playing the game or (B) of analysing it in detail as journalists. But they have shortfalls as fact-claimers: they may (A) lack critical capacity or (B) have never experienced playing the game at a high level.
Fans at home can be more correct about the effectiveness of the tactics being discussed. Despite having fewer resources to analyse the game, despite possessing no relevant experience, and despite, on average, their critical faculties being smaller than those of ex-players and journalists, they can still be right.
So does someone’s standing within a field of expertise, such as football or philosophy, not matter? What is an expert? Is an expert just someone who just gets things right more often? Then who do we trust before the answers reveal themselves, if they ever do?
To attempt to answer these questions let us introduce ‘epistemic peers’: people who have access to the same arguments and evidence and who possess similar experience and intellect. This makes the debate more interesting since even epistemic peers disagree with each other!
A possible solution: Distribute degrees of confidence to arguments being true and find middle ground: e.g. P1 assigns 0.2 to ‘Bill Gates is a crook’ and P2 assigns 0.8 to the same claim; therefore, we assign 0.5 to the truth of Bill Gates being a crook.
But why should one’s confidence have to be adjusted?!
Yet if we stand our ground, we’ll be disagreeing forever! Maybe agnosticism is the answer. Then what can we claim?!
Perhaps only arguments and evidence themselves mater; and if people disagree in meta-disputes about arguments and evidence, such disagreements only form part of total assessments.
(Relevant philosophers whose thoughts inspired us: Thomas Kelly and Jennifer Lackey.)