Disagreements

Essay topics (in four langauges) »

The topic of the olympiad this year is disagreements. People of different cultural backgrounds, but also citizens of the same society with the same cultural background often disagree deeply about fundamental moral questions. (Examples: Can we eat animals? Are partnerships of members of the same sex to be treated in the same way as partnerships between members of different sexes?) But what does the existence of such disagreements show? Perhaps the existence and persistence of such disagreements should show us that these questions simply don't have objective answers. If they had, wouldn't we have discovered by now who is wrong and who is right about these questions?

Some questions, for example the question whether The Simpsons are funny, or whether blue cheese is tasty, might be good candidates for questions that don't have objective answers. You might find blue cheese tasty, while I might find it disgusting, and neither of us might be objectively wrong. But how should we understand such situations? Are there really "faultless disagreements"? Situations in which two parties disagree, although nobody is making a mistake?

Of course, there are sometimes apparent disagreements, in which nobody is mistaken. Simply because we thought we'd disagree, while in fact we agree about all matters of fact but misunderstood each other. Some believe that philosophy is full of such apparent disagreements. Disputes that are merely verbal and due to a confusion of language, while in fact we should all agree about what the facts are.

Finally, there is a question of what we should learn from the existence of disagreements. Let's assume that you and your friend both disagree about something, although you both had access to the same evidence and you don't have reason to think that your friend was less careful in considering the evidence. Shouldn't the fact that there is this disagreement about what to conclude from the evidence show you and your friend that it would be best not to conclude anything from it?

This topic is related to the research project "Disagreements: Philosophical Analysis" of the Department of Philosophy. The project is devoted to the study of disagreement as it arises in philosophy (e.g. logic, ontology), science, ethics and everyday life. The goal is to examine the nature of disagreement, to assess the implications that some seemingly dysfunctional disagreements may have for the objectivity of the topics on which they arise, and to develop strategies for the effective handling of disagreement.

See the programme »