Siena College

Why It Matters That We Disagree: Character, Situation, and Our Capacity to be Open-Minded

Joshua Alexander



Sometimes we disagree. We hold certain beliefs that are explicitly rejected by others, and do so even when exposed to all of the same kinds of evidence and arguments. This fact about us has become increasingly interesting to epistemologists, who have tended to focus on whether these kinds of situations require us to change the confidence we have in our beliefs and in what ways. Less philosophical attention has been paid to what contributes to disagreement, and what this might tell us about its epistemological significance. This is a shame, especially because recent work in the social and cognitive sciences suggests that disagreement might actually play a role in epistemic progress by fostering open-mindedness and by helping us to overcome several well- known cognitive biases. The proposed research project is designed to explore more carefully the relationship between intellectual disagreement and our capacity to be open-minded, focusing on the role that specific cognitive dispositions, as well as specific contextual and situational factors, play in our capacity to be open-minded in the face of cognitive diversity. By coming to better understand what factors influence our capacity to be open-minded in the face of cognitive diversity, we can better understand the epistemological significance of intellectual disagreement, including not only what we should do when we disagree, but what disagreement can do for us.