Senior Literature Review Fall 2017

Will’s Second Presentation


Schoenfield’s paper gives us a ton of guidance. It has an abstract. She explains how the paper’s major sections are meant to fit together with a set of numbered propositions (Schoenfield 2014, 195). And she explains out her argumentative strategy in a paragraph that begins “In a nutshell, my view is this” (Schoenfield 2014, 194). This is not at all an easy paper and I had trouble following it towards the end. But the author does all the right things to help us see what she is trying to do.

We spent a fair amount of time talking about her defense of permissivism. Her idea is that two people could legitimately begin with one body of evidence but come to different conclusions about it if they had different standards for evaluating and interpreting the evidence.

Part of her case involved disagreements among experts, such as paleontologists debating why the dinosaurs went extinct (Schoenfield 2014, 196–97). The idea here was that the paleontologists share all the same evidence but still disagree. We raised some questions about whether that is really so: do paleontologists with different training have all the same evidence as one another? And we also noted that you could accept the existence of so-called private evidence without abandoning the distinction between expert and non-expert opinion; this seemed to answer her second point.

Perhaps the different training amounts to different standards rather than different evidence. But Octave was not sure what she means by “standards” (Schoenfield 2014, 199–200). I think some examples would have helped.

In order to make the strategy work, it has to be the case that standards are not the sort of thing that there could be evidence for or against adopting. If they were, then we would be back at the original problem: is there one uniquely best set of standards or can different people reasonably adopt different standards. It seemed to us that she addressed this question on page 202 but that the two paragraphs at the top of that page were in tension with one another (Schoenfield 2014, 202).

After a break, Will took a crack at explaining the difference between Rational Independence and Truth Independence (Schoenfield 2014, 206). This is part of her strategy for addressing so-called “irrelevant factor” cases, such as “I am a Protestant because I grew up in a Protestant household, but I concede that the fact that I grew up with Protestant parents is an irrelevant factor for the justification of Protestant beliefs.” This proved tricky to understand.


Schoenfield, Miriam. 2014. “Permission to Believe: Why Permissivism Is True and What It Tells Us About Irrelevant Influences on Belief.” Noûs 48 (2): 193–218. doi:10.1111/nous.12006.