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Doxastic Disagreement


This paper explores some alternative accounts of doxastic disagreement, and shows what problems each faces. It offers an account of doxastic disagreement that results from the incompatibility of the content of doxastic attitudes, even when that content’s truth is relativized. On the best definition possible, it is argued, neither non-indexical contextualism nor assessment-relativism have an advantage over contextualism. The conclusion is that conflicts that arise from the incompatibility (at the same world) of the content of given doxastic attitudes cannot be accommodated by theoretical positions that allow for the compatibility (at the same world) of the content of different doxastic attitudes.

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  1. The paper does not address objectivism about moral or aesthetic values. Objectivists can easily account for doxastic disagreements. If there is an objective fact of the matter about whether something is good, or beautiful, then one of two people who disagree doxastically about that fact should be wrong. At least, the objectivist can say so confidently, but contextualists and relativists cannot.

  2. On the Lewisian account, the meaning assigned to a sentence is a function from context-index pairs to truth-values. So (1) is true with respect to context of utterance c and index i if and only if it is sunny at the time and place of i in the world of i. The values of the index i are, by default, those of the context of utterance (even though they may be shifted from those of the context of utterance by operators).

  3. Kennedy (2007) and Kennedy and McNally (2010), for instance, argue for a contextualist treatment of gradable adjectives.

  4. In 〈C U , w, a〉, C U is the context of utterance, w the world of the context of utterance and a an assignment. Truth is relative because it is truth at a world that overlaps the context of utterance and the context of assessment.

  5. The distinction between what an utterance is about and what it concerns was introduced by Perry (1986). An utterance is about what is explicitly referred to in virtue of the meaning of the expressions used; an utterance concerns aspects of the actual circumstances in virtue of which it is true or false. .

  6. A different kind of arguments and examples are used in relatively recent developments in game theory for the claim that the notion of individual rationality is inadequate for the explanation of inter-subjective or group coordination. Cf. for instance Bacharach (2006).

  7. MacFarlane (MS) defines two related notions, preclusion of joint satisfaction and preclusion of joint accuracy. The latter is discussed in Sect. 4 of this paper.

  8. This is, I believe, how to reply to Cappelen and Hawthorne’s (2009, 64–66) rejoinder to MacFarlane (2007, 23). They attempted to defend the Simple View and argue that two speakers who assert, say, (7) and (8) in different possible worlds disagree. As argued above, it ain’t necessarily so. In the relevant counterfactual scenario, we cannot describe the subjects as disagreeing. A critic has tried to rephrase what I take to be Cappelen and Hawthorn’s rejoinder to MacFarlane in the following way: “Suppose Statler believes that snow is white. If snow were blue, Waldorf would believe that snow is blue. To get a counterexample to the simple view, we need that Statler asserts that snow is white, and Waldorf asserts that snow is blue. That’s not the case. Waldorf would assert that snow is blue, if it were. Presumably, Waldorf asserts that snow is white! Statler and Waldorf do agree that snow is white. If snow were blue, they would agree that snow is blue. I can’t see how to state or understand a third matter, the alleged lack of disagreement ‘between worlds’, where the simple view allegedly predicts disagreement.” But notice that the simple view makes no mention of different possible circumstances concerned, and it does not take into account the possible circumstances from which speakers assert. Because of that, it cannot explain why although Statler (actually) accepts that p and Waldorf (possibly) accepts that not p, they cannot be described as disagreeing. Alternatively, the critic could be either trying to make the point that agreement/disagreement can only occur when two speakers speak from the same context and concern the same possible world, or to make the biased point that propositional truth is not relative to any parameter. If the latter, then that is not a viable alternative in this debate, as we are making a conditional claim on the existence of relativized propositions. If the former, then there are other counterexamples, to be discussed, where although different parameters are concerned, speakers disagree. Essentially the same point above is made by Schaffer (2011), 221, fn 49).

  9. I owe this example to Jérôme Dokic.

  10. Sundell (2011) considers versions of doxastic disagreements where he appeals to a notion of propositional exclusion accounted for in terms of entailment. The notion of entailment does not receive there further detailed treatment. I should stress that the worries with the notion of strict or relevant entailment are orthogonal to the particular problems relativism may face in accounting for doxastic disagreement.

  11. After Carston’s (1998, 1999) account of metalinguistic negation. According to her, and against Horn (2001), negation does not receive any special meaning in some contexts. Rather it is the sentence in its scope that can be reinterpreted, in some cases, at a meta-representational level. The result is that what is denied, i.e., negated, can be some information conveyed in an (actual or possible) utterance that differs from the literal truth-conditional content asserted (if any).

  12. I do not actually believe that we can remove the concerning relation of the picture meaningfully. Arguably, one would have to modify it and distinguish what is concerned at the context of utterance from what is concerned at the context of assessment. But I will not discuss this point here.

  13. A different view is defended by Egan (2010). He motivates assessment-relativism with the existence of disagreement about matters of taste (and evaluative judgments in general) among subjects with different dispositions and pro-attitudes. The different kind of dispositions, preferences, and pro-attitudes in general, involved in evaluative judgments is a reason to distinguish between taste parameters and the other cases. I am in agreement with almost everything Egan says about individuals’ dispositions. But I do not agree with his solution, for reasons different to the ones here put forward against assessment-relativism. For Egan, to accept that Châteux X is very good is to self-ascribe the property being disposed to enjoy Châteux X. Waldorf disagrees with Statler because, whereas Statler is disposed to enjoy the wine, Waldorf is not so disposed. This, in itself, is still not any disagreement, as I see it. Both Waldorf and Statler can be satisfied at the same world, and it is hard to see how having different dispositions towards wine or food, by itself, can lead to conflicts or disagreements. After all, dispositions to marry different individuals, or to choose different careers, do not lead to disagreements. So why should those other dispositions lead to disagreement?

  14. Hence my sympathy for Egan’s own view, manifested in a previous footnote, but also for Sundell’s diagnosis of the intuitive impressions of disagreement as conflicts of non-doxastic attitudes.

  15. The integration of a contextualist view with a presuppositional account of disagreement data and an account of practical agreements as inter-subjective or group coordination is developed in Marques (2013) and in Marques and García-Carpintero (ms).


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Thanks to Manuel García-Carpintero, Dan Zeman, Giuliano Torrengo, Jérôme Dokic and other members of audiences at: Logos-Jean Nicod workshop in Paris (October 2009), LanCog Analytic Philosophy Seminar (December 2009), workshop Relativism and Disagreement in Bologna (May 2011), workshop Disagreements in Tartu (August 2011), and LanCog-Logos workshop in Barcelona (October 2011), for helpful discussion and comments. Special thanks also to Daniel Cohnitz. Work supported by the projects: Contextualism, Relativism and Practical Conflicts and Disagreement, EuroUnders/0001/2010 (part of the collaborative research project: Communication in Context, Shared Understanding in a Complex World, supported by the European Science Foundation within the EUROCORES EuroUnderstanding programme), and Online Companions to Problems of Analytic Philosophy, PTDC/FIL-FIL/121209/2010 (both funded by FCT); and the projects The Nature of Assertion: Consequences for Relativism and Fictionalism Code: FFI2010-16049, PERSP - Philosophy of Perspectival Thoughts and Facts, Code: CSD2009-00056 (Spain), and by the AGAUR of the Generalitat de Catalunya (2009SGR-1077)

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Marques, T. Doxastic Disagreement. Erkenn 79 (Suppl 1), 121–142 (2014).

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