Monday, July 31, 2023

Values of disagreement

We live in a deeply epistemically divided society, with lots of different views, including on some of the most important things.

Say that two people disagree significantly on a proposition if one believes it and one disbelieves it. The deep epistemic division in society includes significant disagreement on many important propositions. But whenever two people significantly disagree on a proposition, one of them is wrong. Being wrong about an important proposition is a very bad thing. So the deep division implies some very bad stuff.

Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking that our deep social disagreement leads to some important advantages as well. Here are three that come to mind:

  1. If two people significantly disagree on a proposition, then by bivalence, one of them is right. There is a value in someone getting a matter right, rather than everyone getting it wrong or suspending judgment.

  2. Given our deep-seated psychological desire to convince others that we’re right, if others disagree with us, we will continue seeking evidence in order to convince them. Thus disagreement keeps us investigating, which is beneficial whether or not we are right. If everyone agreed with us, we would be apt to stop investigating, which would mean we would either get us stuck with a falsehood, or at least likely provide us with less evidence of the truth than is available. Moreover, continued investigation is apt to refine our theory, even if the theory was already basically right.

  3. To avoid getting stuck in local maxima in our search for the best theory, it is good if people are searching in very different areas of epistemic space. Disagreement helps make that happen.


Attila said...

Also if people significantly disagree on a proposition but significantly agree on another proposition, then that might also imply an unnecessary double standard regarding and considering their epistemology.

For example a person might believe in the existence of a deity while disbelieving in the existence of Santa Claus while another person disbelieves in the existence of any deity while also disbelieving in the existence of Santa Claus.
The one has an unnecessary double standard regarding the currently available evidence or the lack thereof while the other person doesn't have such an unnecessary double standard.

ASBB said...

An interesting sociological reality pertaining to #2 is the seeming fact that members of numerically small, Christian-heretical sects often know much more about the doctrine they reject than the average Church goer. JW's know a lot more about the Trinity and arguments for/against than the average pew dweller etc. I'm inclined to believe that this is due to the dynamic you identify in #2.