Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 8, pp 2187–2202 | Cite as

The epistemic significance of political disagreement

  • Bjørn G. HallssonEmail author


The degree of doxastic revision required in response to evidence of disagreement is typically thought to be a function of our beliefs about (1) our interlocutor’s familiarity with the relevant evidence and arguments, and their intellectual capacities and virtues, relative to our own, or (2) the expected probability of our interlocutor being correct, conditional on our disagreeing. While these two factors are typically used interchangeably, I show that they have an inverse correlation in cases of disagreement about politically divisive propositions. This presents us with a puzzle about the epistemic impact of disagreement in these cases. The most significant disagreements on (1) are the least significant disagreements on (2), and vice versa. I show that assessing the epistemic status of an interlocutor by reference to either (1) or (2) has uncomfortable consequences in these cases. I then argue that this puzzle cannot be escaped by claiming that we usually have dispute-independent reason to reject the significance of politically charged disagreement altogether.


Epistemology of disagreement Political disagreement Motivated reasoning Belief polarization 



I would like to thank David Christensen, Hélène Landemore, Joshua Habgood-Coote, Klemens Kappel, Mikkel Gerken, Fernando Broncano-Berrocal, Jeroen de Ridder, Annette Martin, Chris Ranalli, Mariangela Zoe Cocchiaro, and Udit Bhatia, for helpful comments and discussion during the workshop in Social and Political Epistemology at the University of Copenhagen in March 2018. I also thank an anonymous reviewer for helpful suggestions.


The work that resulted in this article was made possible by a grant from the Danish Free Research Councils (No. 4001-00059B FKK).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Philosophy, Department of Media, Cognition, and CommunicationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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