Research Article

Evidentialism, Higher-Order Evidence, and Disagreement

Richard Feldman


Evidentialism is the thesis that a person is justified in believing a proposition iff the person's evidence on balance supports that proposition. In discussing epistemological issues associated with disagreements among epistemic peers, some philosophers have endorsed principles that seem to run contrary to evidentialism, specifying how one should revise one's beliefs in light of disagreement. In this paper, I examine the connection between evidentialism and these principles. I argue that the puzzles about disagreement provide no reason to abandon evidentialism and that there are no true general principles about justified responses to disagreement other than the general evidentialist principle. I then argue that the puzzles about disagreement are primarily puzzles about the evidential impact of higher-order evidence–evidence about the significance or existence of ordinary, or first-order, evidence. I conclude by arguing that such higher-order evidence can often have a profound effect on the justification of first-order beliefs.

Richard Feldman is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the College at the University of Rochester. His research interests are in epistemology. His publications include Reason and Argument, 2nd Edition (1999), Epistemology (2003), and Evidentialism (with Earl Conee) (2004).