Ratio Scepticism

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  SCEPTICISM ABOUT PHILOSOPHY  Jason Brennan Abstract  Suppose a person who is agnostic about most phiosophica issues wishes to ha!e true phiosophica beie s but e#ua$ wishes to a!oi% ase phiosophica beie s& I argue that this truth'see(ing) error'a!oi%ing agnostic wou% not ha!e goo% groun%s or pursuing phiosoph$& *i%esprea% %isagreement shows that pursuing  phiosoph$ is not a reiabe metho% o %isco!ering true answers to phiosophica #uestions& More i(e$ than not) pursuing phiosoph$ ea%s to ase beie & Man$ attempts to rebut this sceptica argument ai& 1. Insider and Outsider Scepticism about Philosophy Phiosophers %isagree immense$ in signi icant wa$s& Our best phiosophers %isagree o!er the %octrines) metho%s) an% e!en the aims o phiosoph$& E+perts in a ie%s %isagree) but %isagreement is more per!asi!e in phiosoph$ than in most other ie%s& As Thomas ,e$ sa$s) -Phiosoph$ is notabe or the e+tent to which %isagreements with respect to e!en those most basic #uestions persist among its most abe practitioners) %espite the act that the arguments thought ree!ant to the %ispute% #uestions are t$pica$we'(nown to a parties to the %ispute&. /  A sceptic might caim that ra%ica %issensus shows that pursuing phiosoph$ is nota goo% means or %isco!ering true answers or phiosophica #uestions& 0issensus shows that phiosophica metho%s are unreiabe instruments o truth& Suppose an uncommitte%  person comes to phiosoph$ hoping to get true answers to her phiosophica #uestions& She wants to (now what that nature o causation is) what 1usti ication is) what rightness consists in) what 1ustice is) an% so on& She notices that phiosophers ha!e e+tensi!e %isagreement about the answers to these #uestions an% thus concu%es that the probabiit$o her getting the true answer b$ pursuing phiosoph$ is ow& So) she becomes a sceptic 1  Thomas ,e$) -The Epistemic Signi icance o 0isagreement.) in 2ohn Hawthorne an% Tamar 3en%er) e%s&) Oxford Studies in Epistemology  4O+ or%5 O+ or% Uni!ersit$ Press) 67789) p& /:;& 1  about the ie% o phiosoph$ an% wa(s awa$ with her #uestions unanswere%& Is she ma(ing a mista(e<In this paper) I consi%er scepticism o the sort that ho%s that there are true answers to phiosophica #uestions) but none o us are in a goo% position to (now these answers& This t$pe o scepticism a%mits o two sub't$pes& /9 An insider sceptic  ho%s that e!en the best phiosophers ac( goo% reasons to ho% their !iews& So) the insi%er sceptic thin(s that phiosophers who are not agnostic about phiosophica issues shou%  become agnostic& 69 A person who is mere$ an outsider sceptic ) on the other han%) might accept that man$ phiosophers are 1usti ie% in ho%ing their !iews) %espite wi%esprea% %isagreement& The outsi%er sceptic nee% not ho% that phiosophers shou% change their beie s or become agnostic& Howe!er) the outsi%er sceptic aso ho%s that  peope not area%$ committe% to one phiosophica position or another shou% sta$ uncommitte%& So) the outsi%er sceptic ho%s that e!en i most phiosophers are 1usti ie% in accepting their %i erent !iews) a person who ac(s phiosophica beie s ought to re rain rom using phiosophica metho%oog$ an% instea% shou% remain agnostic&Suppose an uncommitte% person) one who is current$ agnostic about basic  phiosophica #uestions) wishes to %isco!er the true answers to these phiosophica #uestions& She is aso e#ua$ concerne% to a!oi% ase answers& She is thus wiing to stop being agnostic an% come to beie!e a %octrine pro!i%e% she %oes so !ia a reiabe metho%& =or her) a reiabe metho% is one that is at east more i(e$ than not to gi!e her true beie s& I these are her goas) it is %i icut to show that phiosoph$ as we %o it wou% be worth %oing& She might as we remain agnostic& This is not to sa$ that we  phiosophers must gi!e up our %octrines an% become agnostics ourse!es) but mere$ that a truth'see(ing) error'a!oi%ing agnostic %oes not ha!e goo% reason to pursue phiosoph$ in the attempt to %isco!er the truth about phiosophica #uestions& This paper argues that the presence o wi%esprea% %issensus ma(es it %i icut to %e en% phiosoph$ rom outsi%er scepticism) i not insi%er scepticism&There are man$ reasons wh$ phiosoph$ is worth %oing& Yet) it wou% be %isturbing i we cannot show the agnostic that phiosoph$ gets her the right t$pe o !aue >true answers to phiosophica #uestions& 2  2. The Argument against Philosophy 0issensus can be use% in an argument against phiosoph$5 The Argument against Philosophy & The goa o phiosoph$ is to unco!er certain truths& ?a%ica %issensus shows that phiosophica metho%s are imprecise an% inaccurate& Phiosoph$ continua$ ea%s e+perts with the highest %egree o epistemic !irtue) %oing the !er$ best the$ can) to accept a wi%e arra$ o incompatibe %octrines& There ore) phiosoph$ is an unreliable instrument or in%ing truth& A person who enters the ie% is high$ uni(e$ to arri!e at true answers to phiosophica #uestions&This is a rough s(etch o the argument& I wi re ine it as necessar$ as the paper procee%s& @ote that Argument against Phiosoph$ nee% not caim that no phiosopher has oun% the truth& It is possibe that ,ant got e!er$thing right& Yet) phiosoph$ aso has arri!e% at hun%re%s o other incompatibe %octrines& I phiosoph$ ea%s to the truth) it is on$  because it ea%s amost e!er$where&A person concerne% on$ to get the truth wou% at the !er$ east tr$ to beie!e some ran%om$ chosen %octrine rather than be agnostic) since there is at east some  possibiit$ that a ran%om %octrine happens to be correct& She might e!en pursue  phiosophica metho%s i the$ increase the probabiit$ o being correct) as it is possibe the$ %o& Perhaps phiosophers are twice as i(e$ to ha!e true answers to phiosophica #uestions than non'phiosophers are& Howe!er) i this same person is e#ua$ concerne% to a!oi% ase beie s about phiosophica issues) then she wou% want to pursue  phiosoph$ on$ i it ga!e her a greater than 7 chance o getting a true beie & 3i!en the %egree o %issensus in most ie%s o phiosoph$) it seems uni(e$ that phiosoph$ o ers her this great a chance&Here is an anaog$& Suppose) thousan%s o peope) each o whom wants to go to So Pauo) ran%om$ boar% a ights %eparting 0aas'=ort *orth& Suppose the$ i a %eparting seats) but are not to% where the$ are going& O these thousan%s) a ew hun%re%in act wi an% in So Pauo& Most wi arri!e somewhere ese& Phiosoph$ seems i(e this in man$ respects& It ma$ bring some peope to the proper %estination) but it %umps most somewhere ese& Actua$) matters are worse than that& Tra!eers wi (now whether the$ ha!e arri!e% in So Pauo& In phiosoph$Ds case) some ma$ in%ee% arri!e at 3  truth& Howe!er) the$ wi not ha!e %iscernib$ better groun%s or beie!ing this than their mista(en peers& The$ ma$ beie!e themse!es to ha!e better groun%s) an% their peers  beie!e this about themse!es as we& Howe!er) rom the outsi%er.s perspecti!e) the$ oo( the same& The$ are smart peope %oing the best the$ can) an% the$ %isagree& The outsi%er has itte reason to thin( one phiosopher is coser to the truth than the ne+t) an% itte reason to thin( that i she became a phiosopher) she wou% %o an$ better&Here is another wa$ o ma(ing the unreiabiit$ argument& Suppose that there are /7 competing %octrines in the ie% o phiosoph$ o min%) each o which is accepte% b$ /7 percent o the members o the American Phiosophica Association& Suppose) optimistica$) that on the nature o consciousness /7 percent o the members o the APA ha!e the right theor$& Suppose aso that we can regar% a members o the APA as epistemic peers) where two peope are epistemic peers 1ust in case the$ are e#uas with respect to their %egree o epistemic !irtue 4thought uness) ree%om rom bias) etc&9 an% their access to e!i%ence& 6  An uncommitte% person) oo(ing at the ie% rom the outsi%e) wou% worr$ that i she pursues phiosoph$) she wi ha!e something i(e a / in /7 chanceo getting the right answer to the #uestions o the phiosoph$ o min%& She sees that  phiosophica metho%oog$>stu%$ing arguments) ma(ing new arguments) creating new %istinctions) rea%ing te+ts) %ebating) etc&>genera$ ea%s peope to accept some theor$ or other o the nature o consciousness& 4Let us assume that e!er$one who stu%ies the  phiosoph$ o min% en%s up accepting / o the /7 theories&9 So) she (nows that  phiosophica metho%oog$ wi resut in her accepting some theor$) but rom her stan%point) it is more i(e$ than not that it wi be the ase theor$& The greater the %egree o %isagreement among epistemic peers) the ower the probabiit$ that  phiosophiing wi get her to the truth&This argument assumes than an agnostic outsi%er who en%s up pursuing  phiosophica metho%s wi ha!e either a ran%om or proportiona chance o accepting an$ theor$& I&e&) I am wor(ing on the assumption that she wi either accept a theor$ at ran%om or with a probabiit$ proportiona to the percentage o her epistemic peers that accept an$ gi!en theor$& ?ea peope probab$ %o not ha!e a ran%om chance %ue to their  bac(groun% starting beie s& A person who comes to phiosoph$ as a Christian is 2  ,e$) -Epistemic Signi icance o 0isagreement.) p& /7& 4
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