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Intractable Disagreements


Disagreement Seminar Project: Intractable disagreements

Intractable Disagreement Seminar Schedule 2012

[Suggestions are welcome!]

It is well known that three philosophical problems put into question the objectivity of vast areas of discourse: the problem of vagueness, the problem of relativism and the problem of skepticism. Here I focus on the role that the notion of disagreement plays into these problem. The aim of the project is to gain a better understanding of the problems by inquiring the nature of disagreement in order to assess the menace posed by these problems to the objectivity of the relevant areas of discourse.

Phase 1: Disagreeing on perspectival matters

A similar situation to the elusive nature of borderline propositions is manifested in those areas of discourse where disagreements arise because of the apparent perspectival nature of the propositions involved. As in the vagueness case, here the problem has to be with the nature of the propositions involved. We are often faced with the the fact that in matters such as taste, aestethics and ethics people disagree and that these disagreement do not very often find a solution. Different perspectives on, say, whether sushi is tasty seem to equally justify opposite views on the issue. A noticeable difference with borderline cases here is that disputes tends to be intransigent rather than gentle: disputants tends to hold their view by rejecting the admissibility of the opposite view.

  • What is the nature of intransigent disagreement on perspectival matters?
  • Are perspectival propositions incompatible with a realistic semantics?
First disagreement riddle
Faultless disagreement seems intractable: either we opt for an realist epistemic treatment or a semantic treatment; on the former we lose grip on the notion of faultlessness and we face the danger of skepticism; on the latter we face the lost disagreement problem.

The project will assess whether relativistic treatment of these areas of discourse can make sense of the notion of the disagreement,

Intermezzo: Disagreeing in the borderline area

The first problem, the problem of vagueness, threatens the very coherence of our language and thought because of the sorites paradox and puts into question over the factuality of borderline propositions, propositions that we do entertain and assert in everyday life. The nature of a disagreement in the borderline area is unclear since it is unclear the nature of the propositions involved in the judgment. On the one hand these propositions seem to be perfectly analogous to the ones involved in the clear cases, on the other hand their truth-status is problematic as the debate on vagueness shows. Disagreement in the borderline area is possible (indeed actual), though what seem a datum of these type of disagreement is that both opinion seem, if withhold by a competent speaker, equally respectable since the exercise of the relevant concepts in the borderline area seem to allow both to accept a proposition and its negation (entitlement intuition). The kind of disagreement involved is thus a form of “gentle disagreement” - i.e. a case where two subjects hold incompatible views but where they also recognize the legitimacy of holding the opposite view.

  • What it the nature of gentle disagreements in the borderline area?
  • Are borderline propositions factual?
  • If yes, can borderline propositions be known?
Second Disagreement Riddle
Is there a way to make sense of the entitlement intuition?

The project will focus on the agnostic theories of vagueness which try to reject the principle of bivalence without denying it.

Phase 2: Disagreement and skepticism

A recent formulation of the problem of skepticism calls into question the fact that philosophy is full of disputes on the very nature of reality. Philosophers who are epistemic peers hold incompatible views on the metaphysical nature of reality, on the nature human knowledge and language. The skeptical thought is then that if the best experts disagree on what is language, knowledge and reality, we cannot know anything since any putative piece of everyday knowledge involves a belief whose content is incompatible with one of the philosophical theories held by a top-level philosophical expert on the matter.

  • Are the disagreement among epistemic peers in philosophy substantive or merely verbal?
  • Does a disagreement between epistemic peers in philosophy really
    threaten our everyday knowledge?
Third disagreement riddle
Can we have rational beliefs in the presence of disagreement among epistemic peers who are the best experts on the topic?

The project will analyze the extent to which these “epistemic-peer-based” skeptical argument pose a novel threat to our knowledge aspirations.

References (in progress)

Baker, C. (2012) “Indexical contextualism ans the challenges from disagreement”, Philosophical Studies 157(1):107-123

Barker, S. J. (2010). Cognitive Expressivism, Faultless Disagreement, and Absolute but Non-Objective Truth. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 110 (2pt2):183-199.

Beillard, J (2010). "The Appearance of Faultless Disagreement". Dialogue, 49 , pp 603-616.

Buekens, F. (2011) “Faultless Disagreement, Assertions and the Affective-Espressive Dimension of Judgments of Taste”, Philosophia 39(4):637-655

Chalmers, D. (2011). Verbal Disputes. Philosophical Review 120 (4):515-566.

Cappelen, H. Hawthorne, J. (2011) “Reply to Lasersohn, MacFarlane, and Richard”, Philosophical Studies 156 (3):517-19

Christensen, C. (2009) “Disagreement as Evidence: The Epistemology of Controversy. Philosophy Compass 4(5):756-767

Christensen, C. “Disagreement, Question-Begging and Epistemic Self-Criticism”, Philosopher's Imprint 11(6):1-22

Coliva, A. & Moruzzi, S. Truth Relativists Can't Trump Moral, Analytic Philosophy, forthcoming.

Egan, A. (2010). Disputing About Taste. In Ted Warfield & Richard Feldman (eds.), Disagreement. OUP.

* Elga, A. (2007). Reflection and Disagreement. Noûs 41 (3):478–502.

Feldman, R. 'Epistemological Puzzles About Disagreement' (2006) in Stephen Hetherington (ed.) Epistemology Futures. OUP

Frances, B. (2005), Scepticism Comes Alive. Oxford University Press.

Frances, B. (2010), “The Reflective Epistemic Renegade”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81(2)419-463

Francén, R. (2010). No Deep Disagreement for New Relativists. Philosophical Studies 151:19--37.

Iacona, A. "Faultless or Disagreement" in M. Garcia Carpintero and M. Kolbel, 'Relative Truth', Oxford University Press 2008

Kelly, T. "The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement", Oxford Studies in Epistemology 1: 167-196 (2005).

Kelly, T. 'Peer Disagreement and Higher-Order Evidence' (2010) in Alvin Goldman & Dennis Whitcomb (eds.) Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. OUP

Koelbel, M. “Faultless Disagreement”. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 104 (2003): pp. 53-73

Lasershon, P. (2011) “Context, relevant parts and (lack of) disagreement over taste” Philosophical Studies 156 (3):433-439

Lopez de Sa, D. (2007) “The Many Relativisms and the Question of Disagreement”, International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 15, 339-348

Lopez De Sa, D. (2008) “Presuppositions of Commonality” in M. García-Carpintero & M. Kölbel (eds.), Relative Truth, OUP: 297–310

Lopez De Sa, D. (2011) “How to Respond to Borderline Cases” in R. Dietz & S. Moruzzi (eds.), Cuts and Clouds, OUP, 327-39

MacFarlane, J. (2007) “Relativism and Disagreement”, Philosophical Studies 132, 17–31

MacFarlane, J. “Varieties of Disagreement”, unpublished

Moruzzi, S. (2008) "Assertion, Belief and Disagreement: A Problem for Truth-Relativism in Relative Truth", (eds. M. Garcìa-Carpintero e M. Kölbel), Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Richard, M. (2008), When Truth Gives Out, Oxford University Press.

Richard, M. (2011), “Relativistic content and disagreement”, Philosophical Studies 156 (3):421-431

Rieppel (2011). Stoic Disagreement and Belief Retention. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92 (2):243-262.

Rosenkranz, S. "Frege, Relativism and Faultless Disagreement" in Relative Truth (2008), p. 225-37.

Rosenkranz, S. (2009). “Liberalism, Entitlement, and Verdict Exclusion”. Synthese 171 (3)

Schafer, K. (2011) “Faultless Disagreement and Aesthetic Realism”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82(2):265-286

Stojanovic, I. (2007) “Talking about taste: disagreement, implicit arguments, and relative truth, Linguistics and Philosophy”, Linguistics and Philosophy, 30(6):691-706

Sundell, T. (2011). Disagreements About Taste. Philosophical Studies 155 (2):267-288.

Sundell, T. (forthcoming). Disagreement, Error, and an Alternative to Reference Magnetism. Taylor and Francis: Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-17.

White, Roger. 2005. “Epistemic Permissiveness. Philosophical Perspectives 19: 445–59.

Wright, C. (2001). “On Being in a Quandary: Relativism, Vagueness, Logical Revisionism”. In: Mind 110, pp. 45–98

Wright, C. (2006). Intuitionism, Realism, Relativism and Rhubarb. In Patrick Greenough & Michael Lynch (eds.), Truth and Relativism. Clarendon Press.

Wright, C. (forthcoming), “On the Characterisation of Borderline Cases” in Meanings and Other Things: Essays on Stephen Schiffer, edited by Gary Ostertag (MIT press)

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