Posts Tagged ‘Deep Disagreement’

Many of us working in argumentation theory have an interest in disagreement. Indeed, discussion of so-called “deep disagreement” (per Fogelin) is practically a cottage industry in our field. Recently, professional philosophy has circled around to the topic of disagreement too and spawned it’s own cottage industry on the subject: discussion of the epistemology of disagreement.

Though at present neither field is really engaging the other in a serious way, it would be great to see these bodies of research be brought together. (It can be done! As I have mentioned before here on RAIL, Harvey Siegel’s made a good start on the job.)

In the interest of pushing the argumentation research circle on disagreement further towards the philosophical research circle on disagreement, in the hopes of achieving a Venn diagram of research with a healthy intersection between the two, I offer the following in addition to the above link to Harvey’s paper:

First up, via Philosophy TV an interesting philosophical discussion about the epistemology of disagreement between David Christensen (a philosopher I think argumentation theorists should be reading anyway) and David Sorenson:

David Christensen & Roy Sorensen from Philosophy TV on Vimeo.

Secondly, there’s this more recent item of interest from the NewAPPS blog. The piece gives the results of a recent survey of philosophers’ attitudes towards religion. It specifically addresses the question of how philosophers recognize epistemic peers across religious boundaries.

It seems to me that in this (and in other areas) mainstream philosophy and argumentation theory could benefit from making each others’ mutual acquaintance. What do you think?

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As of a few weeks ago the latest issue of Cogency has been released. The issue contains a number of interesting articles, many of which bear thematic connections to the last OSSA conference back in May.  Of these I recommend two in particular: Dan Cohen’s “Skepticism and Argumentative Virtues“, and Harvey Siegel’s “Argumentation and the Epistemology of Disagreement”. Those that had the good fortune to be at Harvey Siegel’s talk at OSSA on the topic of the latter article will remember an interesting and insightful discussion that brought together recent literature in epistemology and the corpus within argumentation theory on Fogelin’s theory of deep disagreement. Compressed as it was, the presentation hit every major point in the discussion so well that I wound up abandoning a project on the same topic. (To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to fold ’em!)  Dan Cohen’s paper in this issue of Cogency brings East Asian philosophy to bear on the themes of his keynote address at OSSA 10. Whether you happened to agree with his remarks there or in this article or not, I’m confident in saying that I think you’ll find it harder to find a more interesting paper before year’s end.

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Call for papers

19th International Philosophy Colloquium Evian:
Disagreement – Désaccord – Uneinigkeit

Evian (Lake Geneva), France
July 7-13, 2013

We invite proposals (maximum length: one page) for presentations, along with a short CV (maximum length: two pages), by March 31, 2013. Please send these documents via e-mail to:

Is there disagreement? That is, do we really disagree? From the standpoint of everyday life, the answer seems to be clear. Disagreements among us are legion: about scientific, political, and social questions, about questions of right conduct and religion, about questions concerning subjective preferences and aesthetic taste. From the standpoint of rationality, however, it is not so clear how these disagreements should be assessed. Shouldn’t the forceless force of the better argument carry the day in almost all cases of disagreement? Isn’t it possible in principle to determine which view is the better one among rival views? Aren’t disagreements better seen, therefore, as intermediate stages on the way toward a more comprehensive agreement – at least among all those who conduct themselves rationally? If not, can a disagreement itself be rational, even when two interlocutors share the same epistemic presuppositions and the same relevant information? Is “reasonable disagreement” an enduring feature of our practices and reaches deeper than we generally assume? What is the theoretical and practical relevance of persistent disagreement? Does the latter lead to the acceptance of relativism, skepticism, or pluralism? (more…)

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OSSA 2011 is now officially in the bag.  It was a good week. With such a high volume of papers presented it’s possible to follow many trajectories, but these were my highlights:

The Ambassador Bridge

  • Attending a pre-conference workshop on normative pragmatics with Jean Goodwin and Beth Innocenti. Jean and Beth did a fantastic job explaining their views and those of Fred Kauffeld, with whom I was also fortunate enough to chat with at length. Even having known something of these views before, I left considerably enriched for the experience, and convinced that normative pragmatics is a research program that deserves a lot more investigation and development.
  • Discourse analyst Karen Tracy’s keynote address on reasonable hostility in public hearings was also rich with ideas that I intend to think a lot more about in the coming weeks–especially her conception of how issues move through phases of being unarguable (unreflectively taken as settled), arguable (manifestly unsettled or controversial) and then unarguable again (settled sufficiently for the public discussion to move on).  This is not to say that the other keynotes were not also worthwhile–they were. Paul Thagard’s effort to bring a neuropsychological viewpoint to the discussion over the nature of critical thinking was timely, and David Hitchcock’s presentation of his work on inference claims was as interesting and challenging as those who know his work would expect it to be. (You can read the abstracts of the keynotes here.)
  • Having the chance both to attend Maurice Finocchiaro’s session on deep disagreement and to chat with him about it afterwards was illuminating.  As readers of this blog will know, deep disagreement is one of my areas of interest within argumentation theory. Finocchiaro’s work, which will be part of a forthcoming book on meta-argumentation, moves the discussion of deep disagreement forward in what I think are all the right ways.  I’m very glad he’s taken the problem on in the way that he has.
  • Of course I have to thank the wonderful audience that attended my presentation on the history of conductive argument and reflective equilibrium as well. We had an excellent discussion from which I learned much that I will bear in mind as I carry forward my work on this and other projects.

Finally, no discussion of an OSSA conference would be complete without mention of the enormous camaraderie and good will that animates these events.  Coming away from this iteration of OSSA I am reminded of my initial impression that the argumentation community models what I think are scholarly ideals of diversity of approach, internationality and interdisciplinarity.  Of course, we have our divisions and competitive moments just like any other body of scholars.  This is only natural among diverse people who care deeply about what they study and who struggle to get it right.  What is impressive about argumentation theory is that these divisions enliven the discussions rather than hamper them.  In many ways, these gatherings are as much gatherings of friends as they are academic gatherings. Thus, though I won’t try the reader’s patience with a long list of names, I will close this entry by saying how glad I am to have had the chance to catch up with so many old friends, and to have made so many new ones. All in all, it was a week well spent. I look forward to the next one.

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Mulling over deep disagreement (again) I came across this nice little piece by David Suissa at the Huffington Post from a little over a year ago.  In it he talks about the traditional Jewish narrative of the houses of Shammai and Hillel, who differed over how to interpret the Jewish law (Shammai insisted on strict adherence, while Hillel counseled in favor of compassion):

This idea of looking at more than one “truth” is at the heart of the epic debate in the Talmud between the house of Shammai, which represents the strict, uncompromising voice of Jewish law, and the house of Hillel, which represents the more lenient voice.

Rabbi Moti Bar-Or, who runs Kolot, a bridge-building Torah study institution in Israel, explained to me that “the uniqueness of Hillel is that he truly believes there is validity in the Shammai approach, although he totally disagrees with him.”
In Shammai’s world, there’s “no room for pluralism” because it’s the world of “true or false.” It is Hillel’s ability to see the other side, Bar-Or says, that makes Judaism follow his approach today — not the fact that he was “smarter or right.”


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An interesting distinction is made by Andrew Cline in this recent post on his rhetoric and journalism blog, Rhetorica, between “punditry” and “opinion journalism”.

According to Cline, opinion journalism is reporting informed by or explicitly written from a particular political perspective.  It includes acting as a “custodian of fact” and observing a “discipline of verification”.  The offers this description of that discipline via a link to an older post:

A discipline of verification should be basic to any practice that we would understand as journalism. Practicing such a discipline means that journalists must be custodians of fact, i.e. journalists should get to the bottom of civic disputes by gathering and verifying facts rather than simply allowing interested sources to spout off. Journalists should protect the facts from those who would spin them, ignore them, or distort them. When journalists don’t practice this discipline, they are guilty of spinning, ignoring, and distorting, often in the name of fairness and balance.

As to being a custodian of fact, Cline has this to say in another older post on Rhetorica:

What I’m getting at here is this: facts are not necessarily easy things to nail down unless we’re measuring (and even then we can run into problems). […] There can be no argument over facts in themselves. We argue about how facts are measured and what facts mean. And we argue about assertions of fact until such assertions are established as fact. Reporters should consider the statements by sources as assertions of fact until such time as the reporter can establish them as facts. The news organization, then, should not publish unverified assertions without disclaimers or qualifiers.

In contrast to opinion journalism, according to Cline, punditry is simply about “winning politically” and does not include the imperatives to be a custodian of fact or to follow a discipline of verification.


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Cognitive dissonance is one of the best established notions in psychology.  Simply put (perhaps too simply) the idea is that people in general will go to almost any length to hold onto a cherished belief, no matter how strong the evidence against it is, and no matter how irrational the attempt to do so may seem (or actually be).   In a recent posting on his blog Ben Goldacre talks about a recent article in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology that focuses on this effect in cases where subjects dismiss well-founded scientific data that contradicts their beliefs.

While reading this discussion I kept returning in memory to a session I attended at ISSA a couple of weeks ago on deep disagreement. Two of the papers presented focused extensively on strategies for resolving deep disagreements.   David Zarefsky presented a battery of strategies none of which, interestingly, involved a direct attack on the belief(s) at the heart of the disagreement.  Manfred Kraus’s proposal was that deep disagreement be dealt with by “anti-logical” reasoning after the fashion of the Sophist, Protagoras.   I’m no expert on the Sophists but as I understood the paper Kraus seemed to be suggesting that in anti-logical reasoning it’s not so much the partisans of the contradictory views that work out their disagreement as it is the audience to the dispute, who act in the role of judge.


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