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Disagreement Without Error

Abstract

The idea that there can be cases of faultless disagreement, cases of disagreement in which neither party is making a mistake, is frequently discussed in connection with relativist views in philosophy of language. My goal is to argue that we can make sense of faultless disagreement without being committed to any form of relativism if we recognise that disagreement sometimes involves attitudes other than belief, such as desires or preferences. Furthermore, this way of making sense of faultless disagreement allows us to avoid some of the problems that have been raised in connection with relativist accounts of faultless disagreement.

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Notes

  1. See Huvenes (2012) for a discussion of some related issues concerning disagreement and predicates of taste. While the idea that disagreement can involve attitudes other than belief plays an important role in that discussion, the discussion is not specifically concerned with faultless disagreement.

  2. I take this to be a fairly standard way of characterising faultless disagreement. See e.g. Wright (2006) for a similar characterisation of faultlessness.

  3. I am not going to discuss the possibility that we can make sense of faultless disagreement if we accept some kind of non-classical logic. See e.g. Wright (2006) and Beall (2006) for relevant discussion.

  4. There are relativists who adopt a more cautious attitude towards faultless disagreement. For instance, MacFarlane (2005, 2007) does not put a lot of emphasis on faultless disagreement and Richard (2008, p. 132) finds the idea of faultless disagreement problematic from a relativist point of view.

  5. It sometimes looks like there are as many versions of relativism as there are relativists. See e.g. Richard (2004, 2008), Lasersohn (2005), MacFarlane (2005, 2007), Egan (2007, 2010), and Stephenson (2007) for other ways in which to develop relativism.

  6. Both Kölbel and Lasersohn emphasise that there are other ways of motivating relativism, apart from faultless disagreement. See e.g. Kölbel (2009) and Lasersohn (2009).

  7. This way of thinking about disagreement can also be found in the works of contemporary expressivists like Blackburn (1984, 1998) and Gibbard (1990, 2003). However, this way of thinking about disagreement is also available to non-expressivists. See e.g. Jackson and Pettit (1998), Dreier (1999, 2009), and Huvenes (2012). Nothing that I say in this paper presupposes expressivism in any way, shape, or form.

  8. The point is not that someone can never count as having made a mistake in virtue of liking something. The point is that if you dislike something that I like, that does not entail that one of us is making a mistake.

  9. Several commentators have expressed doubts about the idea that relativism can deliver faultless disagreement. See e.g. Stojanovic (2007), Moruzzi (2008), Rosenkranz (2008), Cappelen and Hawthorne (2009), and Moltmann (2010).

  10. See e.g. Stojanovic (2007, p. 696) and Moltmann (2010, p. 195) for similar arguments.

  11. Rosenkranz (2008) runs his argument in terms of assertion rather than belief. Since I am inclined to think of disagreement as a phenomenon at the level of thought, I prefer to run the argument in terms of belief. However, I am assuming that this does not make much of a difference.

  12. MacFarlane (forthcoming) suggests that we can distinguish between different senses of ‘mistake’. But it is not clear that this really addresses the problem. As long as there are true readings of sentences like ‘What you believe is false, but you are not making a mistake’, the view is still making seemingly incorrect predictions. At the very least, this kind of response would have to be supplemented with a story about why the relevant reading of ‘mistake’ is not available in the relevant cases.

  13. It is also worth keeping in mind that these accounts are not incompatible. Even if some cases of faultless disagreement involve non-doxastic attitudes, there might be other cases that require a relativist treatment.

  14. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Northern Institute of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen (October 2011) and the CSMN Colloquium at the University of Oslo (March 2012). I am grateful to the audiences on those occasions for useful comments and criticisms. I would also like to thank an anonymous referee for helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Torfinn Thomesen Huvenes.

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Huvenes, T.T. Disagreement Without Error. Erkenn 79, 143–154 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-013-9449-0

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Keywords

  • Relevant Case
  • Alternative Account
  • Propositional Truth
  • Relativist Account
  • Truth Predicate