, Volume 190, Issue 8, pp 1437-1454
Date: 04 May 2012

Do computer simulations support the Argument from Disagreement?

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Abstract

According to the Argument from Disagreement (AD) widespread and persistent disagreement on ethical issues indicates that our moral opinions are not influenced by moral facts, either because there are no such facts or because there are such facts but they fail to influence our moral opinions. In an innovative paper, Gustafsson and Peterson (Synthese, published online 16 October, 2010) study the argument by means of computer simulation of opinion dynamics, relying on the well-known model of Hegselmann and Krause (J Artif Soc Soc Simul 5(3):1–33, 2002; J Artif Soc Soc Simul 9(3):1–28, 2006). Their simulations indicate that if our moral opinions were influenced at least slightly by moral facts, we would quickly have reached consensus, even if our moral opinions were also affected by additional factors such as false authorities, external political shifts and random processes. Gustafsson and Peterson conclude that since no such consensus has been reached in real life, the simulation gives us increased reason to take seriously the AD. Our main claim in this paper is that these results are not as robust as Gustafsson and Peterson seem to think they are. If we run similar simulations in the alternative Laputa simulation environment developed by Angere and Olsson (Angere, Synthese, forthcoming and Olsson, Episteme 8(2):127–143, 2011) considerably less support for the AD is forthcoming.