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I'm sure that, for almost any position I take on a controversial political issue, there is an expert out there who has investigated it more than I have and, as a result, rejected my position -- or who *would* reject my position *if* they investigated it more thoroughly. (Take, for example, the question of whether Obamacare is good public policy.) This humbles me and makes it difficult for me to be fully confident in my conclusions and work up the motivation to fight for what seems like the right thing.

More generally, careful reflection on how I could be wrong often removes or severely diminishes the passion I might have originally felt about a political issue. My reflection breeds a sort of apathy.

Is that inappropriate? How do philosophers who passionately fight for political causes deal with the uncertainty that they could be wrong, or with the fact that there is (or could be) someone out there who is more of an expert *and* has the opposite view?

October 31, 2013

Response from Miriam Solomon on October 31, 2013
The quick answer to your question is that most people have more self-confidence--even arrogance--than you seem to have about their opinions, especially if they are "experts." So, they might be wrong, but they don't worry about it like you do (as my husband the surgeon says about surgeons "sometimes wrong but never in doubt"). A more thoughtful answer to your question, which draws on epistemological ideas, is that so-called experts--just as non-experts--are susceptible to various kinds of bias, such as confirmation bias (evidence for one's position is weighed more heavily than evidence against) and salience bias (one's personal experiences are weighed more heavily than the experiences one has merely heard about). And so-called non-experts can in fact be more knowledgeable than so-called experts about their own experiences of e.g. what it feels like to be poor. So, you shouldn't defer to the experts, although you can sometimes learn from them.

There is now a philosophical literature on "peer disagreement" which covers the question of what you are supposed to do if your "epistemic peers" (other experts if you are an expert) disagree with you on a topic.
Response from Miriam Solomon on October 31, 2013
The quick answer to your question is that most people have more self-confidence--even arrogance--than you seem to have about their opinions, especially if they are "experts." So, they might be wrong, but they don't worry about it like you do (as my husband the surgeon says about surgeons "sometimes wrong but never in doubt"). A more thoughtful answer to your question, which draws on epistemological ideas, is that so-called experts--just as non-experts--are susceptible to various kinds of bias, such as confirmation bias (evidence for one's position is weighed more heavily than evidence against) and salience bias (one's personal experiences are weighed more heavily than the experiences one has merely heard about). And so-called non-experts can in fact be more knowledgeable than so-called experts about their own experiences of e.g. what it feels like to be poor. So, you shouldn't defer to the experts, although you can sometimes learn from them.

There is now a philosophical literature on "peer disagreement" which covers the question of what you are supposed to do if your "epistemic peers" (other experts if you are an expert) disagree with you on a topic.


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