Master of Arts
Date of Defense
Debates about the epistemic significance of peer disagreement are highly idealized. Some have even suggested that genuine cases of epistemic peer disagreement never in fact obtain, since even seemingly trivial differences in experience and attitudes can bias evidential processing. This thesis defends the view that these criticisms are overstated: the problem is not that epistemic peer disagreements do not exist, but rather that we lack an account of how it is possible to identify our epistemic peers. I argue that attention to the sense of humor provides one important source of evidence regarding the experiences and attitudes of others that are epistemically significant. Moreover, while epistemic peers are difficult to identify, we are good at identifying those who share our sense of humor, our comic peers. I will argue that comic peerhood reveals a great deal about the background beliefs and attitudes of others that can be deployed in the service of identifying our epistemic peers.
I will divide the paper into five sections. In the first section, I introduce the concepts of comic peer and epistemic peer, and elaborate the practical problems one encounters in efforts to identify epistemic peers. In the second section, I elaborate an analogy between comic peers and epistemic peers. In the third section, I develop the hypothesis that humor and joking provides an important source of evidence regarding the second-order beliefs and attitudes that are relevant to determining who’s whose epistemic peer. In the fourth section, I argue that because people are generally unable to manipulate or hide their genuine responses to humor, and because we are all good at recognizing amusement in others, that attention to humor bypasses some of the practical problems that afflict attempts to identify epistemic peers. The overall result is an approach to epistemic peerhood that goes some distance towards ameliorating the worry that approaches to epistemic peer disagreement are necessarily highly idealized, and therefore fail to be action-guiding.
Harrison, Kaci, "Knock-Knock! Whose Peer? The Epistemic Significance of Humor" (2018). Theses. 338.