Disagreement

Friday, December 3, 2010 -- 4:00 PM
John Perry

Isn’t it a bit odd that philosophers disagree? Consider Ken and I. We’re both a reasonably well-educated, fairly intelligent, pretty perceptive, not overly neurotic philosophers. Why shouldn’t we agree about everything?

 We need to distinguish between apparent and real disagreements.  Suppose Ken says lima beans taste good, and I say that he’s wrong, lima beans taste bad.  It seems there is no real disagreement here, just differing tastes.  We only have real disagreement when two people hold opinions that cannot both be true.

 Exactly where to draw the line isn’t so clear.  Lima beans: differing tastes, or is there a fact of the matter whether they taste good or not?  One might say there are subjective facts: they taste good to Ken, but not to me.   Tasting good is not a property of lima beans, but a relation between lima beans and a person, a subject; they taste good to some people, but not to others.  Our ordinary way of expressing subjective facts often disguises them as objective facts:  Lima beans taste good.  No they don’t.

 How about disagreement on aesthetic issues.  Dickens is a deep an interesting author?  No he’s not; he’s a nineteenth century hack.  Subjective, or objective?  Jane Austen is a better author than Dickens?  No she’s not!  Is there a fact of the matter?

 How about the abortion debate.  It’s sort of puzzling, because intelligent people and learned people look at the same facts and draw opposite conclusions.  But maybe the conclusions aren’t really opposite.   Maybe one party is really just saying, “we really really disapprove of abortions  and don't like them at all,” and the other party is saying, “we don't mind them all  that much.” There's no real disagreement, just different taste.  Or maybe they are not really looking at the same facts.  Maybe those on one side or the other are ignoring important facts, like souls, or like the slippery and conventional nature of all classifications, even attributes like being a person, or committing murder?

So knowing what is a real and what is only an apparent disagreement is itself a philosophical problem, or a bunch of them, and rich source of disagreement.

But take a case where there is no question but that we are dealing with an objective fact.   Suppose Ken and I each have a clear view of a certain  tree. Suppose we are both reasonably well educated about trees but not real experts.  Ken says it’s a cedar, I say it’s a redwood.  Should we each lower the confidence we put in our own conclusion, on the grounds that an equally good judge has come to an opposite one?

That seems reasonable, but suppose I have carefully considered the matter.  The bark looks like a redwood.  The needles don’t quite look like a redwood, could be a cedar.   Ken did the same.  Now if I take Ken’s view into account,  it seem I am just taking the same evidence into account that I already did, but weakening the conclusion.  What’s rational about that?

 Perhaps it’s not the very same evidence.  I am adding the evidence that Ken came to a different conclusion.  Think of it this way.  We are both fallible devices for getting at the truth.  When I came to the conclusion it was a redwood tree, that was based on the results of the device nearest at hand --- my own mind.  But now I can take account of the result of a different device Ken’s mind.  If the devices agree, it’s like the old advice, measure twice, cut once.  But if they disagree, it’s best not to cut until you’ve considered the matter further.

But, if I measure a length twice, and come up with different results, common sense suggests the true length may be somewhere in between.  Measure a third time, or split the difference.  But the tree is either a redwood or a cedar.  The fact that Ken and I come to different conclusions is really not evidence that it’s some kind of hybrid.  Unless I think Ken has consulted evidence I haven’t, or knows more about trees than I do, his conclusion really doesn’t seem to provide me with any new information at all.  Well, perhaps it shows that we aren’t really peers, and one of knows more than the other?  But which one?

The issues here are more complex than meet the eye.  There is in fact a large and growing disagreement about how rational people should treat peer disagreement.   I’ve gotten to the limits of what I know about this debate, but following tomorrow’s program, I’ll know a lot more.  I think.

Comments (12)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, December 4, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Perhaps an inquiry as to whether we are actually i

Perhaps an inquiry as to whether we are actually interested in a disagreement between you and Ken is more appropriate.
strange that you didn't seem to get anything out of your own consideration of this.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, December 4, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

There are a great number of factors at play when w

There are a great number of factors at play when we consider things on which people disagree. Pride of intellectual stature (I am smarter than you and therefore know more); pride of educational achievement(I have more years of education and have attained greater academic credentials, and therefore know more than you); pride of OEOs (I have Observed, Experienced and Opinionated on more things than have you, and therefore know more than you); and finally, pride of the unexpected, which includes those who are painfully insecure, but who can manipulate facts to their advantage or manufacture plausible deniability in support of their arguments. The current hubbub over gays in the military is one example of this.
It seems to this Observer that people just generally want to win an argument or prevail in a disagreement, right or wrong, because winning feels better than losing. It does not even matter so much whether you are right. In fact, it is sort of more fun when you are not.
It is fickle, this HOMO SAPIENS species. And it may just be too smart for its own good. But you did not hear that from me...

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, December 4, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Just Be There are those who would argue the truth

Just Be
There are those who would argue the truth,
For me I would rather simply just be.
True,
=
MJA

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, December 5, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

DISAGREEMENT AS THERAPY The idea was posited th

DISAGREEMENT AS THERAPY
The idea was posited that we can improve ourselves through disagreement, because disagreement challenges our opinions, and makes us examine our positions, and, as intelligent, reasonably well-informed people, we will modify or even switch positions based on good arguments that are contrary to our positions.
This model only works for philosophers, and probably very few philosophers, at that. How many people ?in the real world? do you think follow this very sane, rational approach to epistemology? Statistically, none.
The need to be ?right? is the most powerful, essential, human instinct. God and religion were invented to provide confirmation of what humans think is ?right,? to fulfill that need, and to give assurances about those ideas. [The other reason for the invention was to provide an object for our love.]
No one changes their opinion without coercion. It is not enough that there IS a Chinese restaurant on State Street; whoever says there isn?t, will scramble for an excuse when presented with the facts, such as ?That?s not a Chinese restaurant; it is a Chinese-American restaurant.? Only a handful of philosophers would admit they were wrong; ALL people believe that they MUST BE RIGHT: it is ?Human, All Too Human.? And it is an instinct that can be used to manipulate people for all kinds of ends, good and bad. [And so is the need to have an object for our love.]
Philosophy is wonderful: it is the reasoned contemplation of thought. But that says nothing about its practical use; we can come to all kinds of reasonable conclusions about our thoughts and what they ought to be, and how best to behave, but this is almost never the process that anyone uses to guide their behaviour. But we don't despair; for us, there is great comfort and joy and stimulation in our work -- that is reward enough.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, December 6, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Cudos to Mr. Savinar. Couldn't have said it better

Cudos to Mr. Savinar. Couldn't have said it better myself although I have said and read it in a similar tone, with similar content. It harkens me back to an acquaintance who said he was quoting his father. Pop allegedly said to son: never apologize, it is a sign of weakness. And isn't that just like us? We do not react well to being wrong about anything. It is---it must be---instinctual and a large piece of our survivability quotient. Alas, wars are instigated and prosecuted on the strength of this very notion.
We ought to thank our rational sense for philosophy. Without it we would be nothing more than the primitives from whence we came. But that is another argument and fodder for another show. Are you listening, guys?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Looks like Savinar and Neuman are on a similar pag

Looks like Savinar and Neuman are on a similar page. If there are two, there may be four, and so on. Revolution is dramatic, but evolution is less violent. And, it leads to greater stability. Despots will never get this because they do not think beyond their own miserable lifetimes. Sorry. Philosophy afflicts us in more ways than we can easily perceive. It affects all other aspects of life as we know it. It is astounding that more of us do not recognize the impact---but life is busy, confusing---and there are distractions.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, December 11, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

The problem is that we set the standard of right v

The problem is that we set the standard of right versus wrong as one of which view is closer to a certainty than the other. The farthest from the certain is deemed the wrongest, or just simply wrong.
Since no-one can be sure of certainty, it's in the end a guessing game as to who or what is the less certain, and therefor, by the either/or dichotomy, the wrongest. And yes, it comes down to that, that all sides are likely to be wrong, and thus wrong will need to be defined as the wrongest.
Which tells us little if in fact we benefit most from a contest to decide who or what is the rightest. Redefining wrong from the wrongest to the less and lesser right.
So am I more likely wrong in this analysis than I am less right?

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, December 11, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

I am reminded of a comment by Comrade Ade from the

I am reminded of a comment by Comrade Ade from the 15 minute philosopher blog. The Comrade said: words are messy. I agree. It is hard to decide who is wrong and who is right on any given question or issue and so we have a system of justice and the courts to make such decisions on important matters of law. And avenues of appeal for those who believe a court has erred. Is a decision from an appellate court more right than the one which preceded it? Maybe so, maybe not. Someone will be happy about it; someone won't.
I have a small beef concerning that ever-present instrument we call consensus. It is an imperfect means of arriving at an outcome that opponents can live with. I characterize it as imperfect because it is NEITHER totally right nor totally wrong and may well have sacrificed positives on both sides of an argument. But barring the more one-sided outcome of arbitration or adjudication, it is the best that we've got.
I am drawn back to the last part of Heisenberg's first comment on this post. What was said there essentially is that we have these huge egos and we get a sense of accomplishment from winning, whether the win is fair or foul. Rights and wrongs are only subjective to the detached observer---seems to me.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, December 12, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Our comments on this post have taken us from philo

Our comments on this post have taken us from philosophy through sociology, anthropology and psychology. Isn't it fascinating how all of these homo sapient creations tie into, support and augment one another? And, why not? We are the creators of our world. The increasing complexity and movement towards order in the universe, described by the new mavericks* of science and philosophy, would have absolutely no meaning, if we could not recognize what went on before. Indeed, no meaning if we were not here to make the identification.
The "hard scientists" may scoff if they wish. Fact is they and their provable notions are no more immune to extinction than anyone else. I am beginning to read again. It has been awhile, but the garage is as good as it will get this year and now I must tend to continuing education. Merry Christmas to All, and to All a goodnight.
(*see Morning Buzz blog---you can get there through the 15 minute philosopher blog's Favorite Places)

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Just a random comment on the discourse generated b

Just a random comment on the discourse generated by the Disagreement and Power of Thought posts. These have elicited a wealth of comments, ideas and exchange. Philoso?hy Talk the blog just keeps getting better and better, don't you think?

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, December 17, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Funny example the one you present about Lima beans

Funny example the one you present about Lima beans. Actually, Lima beans are always a topic of discusion in Peru (where they originate from).
Intelligent people will always disagree. Like anybody else, the clue of humankind survival is having diversity of everything.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Great post very thought provoking and opinionated.

Great post very thought provoking and opinionated.

 

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