March 11, 2012

Petering Out

Filed under: Epistemology,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:45 pm

The following strategy or method for rejecting a proposition or position often rears its head in philosophical discourse: “I just don’t understand p. Therefore, ~p.” For better or worse, in some philosophical circles this strategy is amusingly referred to as “Petering Out,” due to its association with Peter van Inwagen. An initial, more charitable rendering of this strategy can be put as follows:

Person R asserts a position or proposition p, and gives arguments for p. Despite not knowing how to counter R’s arguments for p, person S rejects p because (i) it appears to S that p is inconsistent with other propositions or positions S believes, and (ii) despite repeated and honest attempts S makes to make full sense of p, p does not make full sense to S.

Question: Is S’s rejection of p in any way epistemically blameworthy, wrong, or otherwise unwarranted? If so, why?

Certainly there are several other important factors that should probably be considered before a robustly informed answer to the above question can be given (e.g., such as how strongly warranted S’s beliefs in propositions or positions apparently inconsistent with p are, and how essential to S’s noetic structure those other beliefs are). But the scenario above is rough and ready enough to get the intuition pump going.

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