The project “Disagreements: Philosophical Analysis” is funded by the Estonian Science Agency (ETAG) for the period of 01.01.2014 to 31.12.2019. All four chairs of the Department of Philosophy collaborate in this project.
The project is devoted to the study of disagreement as it arises in ethics, logic, ontology, science, and everyday life. People agree and disagree about a lot of things: what happens around them, what to do, matters of taste, and more generally, world views, values, policies, theories etc.
When disagreements allow for a rational resolution, they function as catalysts of progress; such as when lawyers battle out interpretations of a crime in the courtroom, or scientists hash out viable interpretations of experimental data. However, some disagreements run so deep that they don’t allow for a rational solution. Exemplary cases of these are perhaps disagreements about values in moral, political and religious debates. But there are also disputes that appear to be “faultless” in that no party to the dispute is mistaken but which are nonetheless bona fide disagreements. Furthermore, some disagreements are only apparent and upon closer inspection turn out to be merely verbal. A good overview of the variety of disagreements is provided in the volume “Disagreements” (Cohnitz & Marques 2013).
The diversity of disagreement is likely to have both metaphysical and practical consequences. In particular, dysfunctional disagreements (faultless and verbal) seem to have intriguing consequences. Metaphysically, for example, some philosophers (e.g. Hirsch 2009 and Chalmers 2009 in the case of ontology) have argued that their existence implies deflationism about the subject-matter of the initial (apparent) disagreement. Practically, the resolution of dysfunctional disagreements is likely to require very different courses of action from those called for by more standard forms of disagreement. Disagreements of this kind can be found across many domains.
Disagreements about logic and ontology provide one suggestive example. Unlike typical merely verbal disputes, disagreements about logic or ontology do not always disappear once the claims of the disputing parties have been translated into each of the participants’ idioms. But this should be expected if a view like Carnap’s (1934, 1950) were correct, according to which disagreements about logic and ontology are just a pragmatic matter of choosing a way of talking. Furthermore, there are strong independent reasons for thinking that disagreements between three- and four-dimensionalists in ontology (Hirsch 2009), and disagreements between logicians of different camps (Beall and Restall 2006) are not about genuinely competing accounts of objective facts. Thus, even if these disagreements are perhaps not verbal, and although the disputants seem to attempt to express a common primitive concept of, for example, existence, or logical consequence (for the relevant notion of a primitive existence concept, see Chalmers 2009), they might fail in this attempt because they actually possess different primitive concepts. This leaves the problem of how we should analyse such disagreements if they are neither merely verbal, nor genuinely factual, as well as how to diagnose them. Are they deep or dysfunctional?
In science we find deep disputes that derive from the diversity of theoretical approaches. The history of science shows that such disagreements often result from conceptual changes. This has motivated various anti-realist approaches such as van Fraassen’s (1980) constructive empiricism or Putnam’s (1981, 1990) internal realism as alternatives to traditional metaphysical realism. As an alternative to both metaphysical realism and antirealism, Vihalemm (2011a, 2011b, 2012) has proposed practical realism—an approach that is appropriately situated within the revival of Kuhn’s naturalized approach as found in Rouse (1987, 1996, 2002, 2003), Bird (2000), Hoyningen-Huene (1993), Andersen et al (2006), Kindi (1995), and Wray (2011). The main advantage of our approach is that it enables us to take into account both experimental and cultural circumstances of scientific research. We aim to apply practical realism to the study of scientific concepts and conceptual change and the disagreements thereby generated.
Disagreements in ethics raise both theoretical and practical issues. The persistence of disagreements even among well-informed rational people on many ethical issues raise both theoretical worries about the objectivity of morality and practical questions about how we should deal with them. Philosophers, who analyze persistent disagreements on moral issues fall into two groups, depending upon their view of the nature of ethics. Objectivists attempt to show that intractable moral disagreement does not undermine the objectivity of morality (Hurley 1985, Brink 1989, McNaughton 1988, Miller 1985, Shafer-Landau 2003), mostly by defending different accounts of moral realism. Noncognitivists argue that persistent disagreement is best explained by our clashing attitudes and can be taken as good evidence for the claim that there are no moral facts, but rather projected sentiments upon a value-free world (Stevenson 1963, Mackie 1977, Hare 1963, Blackburn 1984, Williams 1985, Tersman 2006).
The Humean strand in the history of philosophy (recently buttressed by social scientists – e.g. Bartels 2008, Forgas and Vargas 2000, Haidt 2012) denies a role to rational argument in the solving of moral and political disagreements because disagreements are based mostly on intuition and emotion. Also several philosophers (De Sousa 1987, Rorty 1980) argue that emotions make us attribute a heavier weight to the features of a situation that better fit our emotions. Thus in order to resolve disagreements we have to take the influence of our emotions in our cognition of moral cases seriously. If the relevant emotions can be seen more like actions, for which we can bear responsibility (Sartre 1948, Solomon 1980) or as affect-laden axiological judgments (Broad 1971, Lyons 1980), then emotions will also be assessable for their own rationality. Emotions as affect-laden axiological judgments can be either appropriate or inappropriate. The focus on emotions thus offers us an additional measure of assessing objectivity in ethical disagreement.
In practical terms we are interested in the question what can be done with disagreements owed to emotional factors and conflicting values. To what extent can emotions be rationally responsive and subject to control? Are disagreements on moral and political issues irresolvable if there is incommensurability of values? Can values be ranked in specific contexts, even if they clash on the fundamental level? What is meant by ‘context’?
The nature of disagreement, the implications of disagreement for the possibility of objectivity and the ways in which we should rationally react to the existence of disagreement are currently central and hotly-debated topics in semantics, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. However, these different perspectives on disagreement are not currently being integrated into a coherent whole. Our ambition is to connect the broader discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of disagreement to the typology of disagreements. We deploy the diverse expertise of the UT Dept. of Philosophy in an integrated assessment of the phenomenon from conceptual, metaphysical, and practical perspectives. The main objectives of the project are: (1) to clarify the notion of disagreement by systematizing types of disagreement and creating heuristics for diagnosing those types; (2) to analyze the metaphysical consequences from disagreements; (3) to ascertain how to address actual disagreements effectively. Our research team includes a wide range of expertise in all areas of philosophy essential for the successful undertaking of the project. It includes both well-established senior staff as well as young researchers, thus helping to ensure cooperation between different generations of philosophers.
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