David Hendersonson holds the Robert R Chambers Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he has taught since 2007. His research interests are in epistemology, philosophy of social science, and philosophy of science. He has published widely in general epistemology, naturalized epistemology, perspectives on both coherentism and foundationalism, and reliabilist epistemology, and on virtue epistemology. In much of this work, he has worked in close collaboration with Terry Horgan.) He has also published on interpretation and explanation in the human sciences, and on simulation of others. During the grant period he is working on issues in the epistemology of testimony, the epistemology of disagreement, and in social epistemology more generally. He is particularly interested in the range of information human epistemic agents have and deploy in accommodating testimony generally, and disagreement specifically. He will also be concerned with the social character of epistemic norms.
How should one respond to the diversity (or to homogeneity) of opinion regarding some matter on which one seeks to form a belief (or to refine one’s existing beliefs)? An important set of such cases involve peer disagreement, cases in which the agent is confronted with others who are reasonably regarded as in the same epistemic league, and who disagree with the agent on the matter in question. These are folk who the agent reasonably regards as being epistemically situated with respect to the matter of concern in ways that are significantly on a par with the epistemic qualifications of the agent himself or herself. My project is to develop a virtue theoretic account of epistemically fitting responses to the views of othersincluding cases on which there is a diversity of opinion. I seek to sort out the dimensions of epistemic qualification to which a virtuous agent could or would be sensitive. I also seek to provide an empirically informed account of the kinds of cognitive processes by which human agents can manage such sensitivity. I believe that such sensitivity is needed for an epistemically fruitful and competent response others beliefs. An account of this epistemically virtuous sensitivity constitutes an account of intellectual humility, and it will treat peer disagreement as a special case.
In The Epistemic Spectrum (Oxford, 2011), I and Terry Horgan developed a form of virtue theory, one that honors several familiar virtue theoretic themes while being deeply informed by a reading of work in cognitive science particularly work on the capacities of trained neural nets. Central here is the idea that we humans come equipped with neural nets that can learn and respond to vast amounts of information and that the relevant background information commonly in play when humans settle on a given belief is not fully articulable. A virtuous human epistemic agent can form beliefs in ways that are nuanced, contextually suitable and contentfully appropriate to significant ranges of information that that agent can only imperfectly and incompletely articulate. In the course of the work proposed here I seek to develop this central idea in application to the question of how one ought to respond to the diversity of belief encountered in ones epistemic community. I will argue that, included in the relevant background information that epistemic agents need to (and can) accommodate will be ranges of learned information regarding the multifaceted qualifications of differently trained and situated folk in ones broad community. This account is to be developed in light of several literatures. Philosophical literatures having to do with social epistemology, peer disagreement, the epistemic importance of testimony, are all relevant. So are psychological literatures having to do with cognitive heuristics and biases, with our capacity to simulate each other, and accounts of how some of our trained cognitive processes can serve to modulate the working of our other processes.