The Precautionary Principle and Expert Disagreement

to appear in Erkenntnis

The Precautionary Principle is typically construed as a conservative decision rule aimed at preventing harm. But Martin Peterson (JME 33: 5–10, 2007; The ethics of technology: A geometric analysis of five moral principles, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017) has argued that the principle is better understood as an epistemic rule, guiding decision-makers in forming beliefs rather than choosing among possible acts. On the epistemic view, he claims there is a principle concerning expert disa- greement underlying precautionary-based reasoning called the ecumenical principle: all expert views should be considered in a precautionary appraisal, not just those that are the most prominent or influential. In articulating the doxastic commitments of decision-makers under this constraint, Peterson precludes any probabilistic rule that might result in combining expert opinions. For combined or consensus prob- abilities are likely to provide decision-makers with information that is more precise than warranted. Contra Peterson, I argue that upon adopting a broader conception of probability, there is a probabilistic rule, under which expert opinions are combined, that is immune to his criticism and better represents the ecumenical principle.

Regret Averse Opinion Aggregation

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 8, no. 16 (2021): 473-495.

It is often suggested that when opinions differ among individuals in a group, the opinions should be aggregated to form a compromise. This paper compares two approaches to aggregating opinions, linear pooling and what I call opinion agglomeration. In evaluating both strategies, I propose a pragmatic criterion, No Regrets, entailing that an aggregation strategy should prevent groups from buying and selling bets on events at prices regretted by their members. I show that only opinion agglomeration is able to satisfy the demand. I then proceed to give normative and empirical arguments in support of the pragmatic criterion for opinion aggregation, and that ultimately favor opinion agglomeration.

Being Realist About Bayes, and the Predictive Processing Theory of Mind

The British Journal for Philosophy of Science 72, no. 1 (2021): 185-220. (with Matteo Colombo & Stephan Hartmann)

Some naturalistic philosophers of mind subscribing to the predictive processing theory of mind have adopted a realist attitude towards the results of Bayesian cognitive science. In this paper, we argue that this realist attitude is unwarranted. The Bayesian research program in cognitive science does not possess special epistemic virtues over alternative approaches for explaining mental phenomena involving uncertainty. In particular, the Bayesian approach is not simpler, more unifying, or more rational than alternatives. It is also contentious that the Bayesian approach is overall better supported by the empirical evidence. So, to develop philosophical theories of mind on the basis of a realist interpretation of results from Bayesian cognitive science is unwarranted. Naturalistic philosophers of mind should instead adopt an anti-realist attitude towards these results and remain agnostic as to whether Bayesian models are true. For continuing on with an exclusive focus and praise of Bayes within debates about the predictive processing theory will impede progress in philosophical understanding of scientific practice in computational cognitive science as well as of the architecture of the mind.

Resolving Peer Disagreements Through Imprecise Probabilities 

Noûs 52, no. 2 (2018): 260-278. (with Gregory Wheeler)

Two compelling principles, the Reasonable Range Principle and the Preservation of Irrelevant Evidence Principle, are necessary conditions that any response to peer disagreements ought to abide by. The Reasonable Range Principle maintains that a resolution to a peer disagreement should not fall outside the range of views expressed by the peers in their dispute, whereas the Preservation of Irrelevant Evidence (PIE) Principle maintains that a resolution strategy should be able to preserve unanimous judgments of evidential irrelevance among the peers. No standard Bayesian resolution strategy satisfies the PIE Principle, however, and we give a loss aversion argument in support of PIE and against Bayes. The theory of imprecise probability allows one to satisfy both principles, and we introduce the notion of a set-based credal judgment to frame and address a range of subtle issues that arise in peer disagreements.

An Epistemically Modest Response to Disagreement, AGM-ified

The Reasoner 9, no. 9 (2015): 76-77.

In this note, I show that AGM belief contraction is appropriate for modeling an epistemically modest response to a disagreement with an epistemic peer.

working papers

Normative Uncertainty Meets Voting Theory

Recent attempts to provide a viable framework for decision making under normative uncertainty through voting procedures seem promising, but incomparable options remain a problem. This paper focuses on the so-called Borda approach to decision making under normative uncertainty and illustrates how an extended version of it aimed at accommodating incomplete preferences associated with normative theories fails. I propose an alternative approach based on approval voting that better addresses the problem of option incomparability and is pragmatically compelling due to its bounded rationality characteristic.