“A Bayesian Solution to Hallsson’s Puzzle”

Politics is rife with motivated cognition. People do not dispassionately engage with the evidence when they form political beliefs; they interpret it selectively, generating justifications for their desired conclusions and reasons why contrary evidence should be ignored. Moreover, research shows that epistemic ability (e.g. intelligence and familiarity with evidence) is correlated with motivated cognition. Bjørn Hallsson has pointed out that this raises a puzzle for the epistemology of disagreement. On the one hand, we typically think that epistemic ability in an interlocutor gives us reason to downgrade our belief upon learning that we disagree. On the other hand, if our interlocutor is under the sway of motivated cognition, then we have reason to discount his opinion. In this paper, I argue that Hallsson’s puzzle is solved by adopting a Bayesian approach to disagreement. If an interlocutor is under the sway of motivated cognition, his disagreement should not affect our beliefs – no matter his ability. Because we implicitly and to high accuracy know his beliefs before he reveals them to us, disagreement provides us with no new information on which to conditionalize. I advance a model which accommodates the motivated cognition dynamic and other key epistemic features of disagreement.