Is disagreement based on misunderstanding?

For present purposes, "disagreement" is the condition we frequently find ourselves in of accepting what somebody else rejects and rejecting what they accept. Disagreement is something more than sheer difference: it requires that both parties be referring to the same thing, that there be something (an object, a proposition, etc.) on which they have taken opposing stances. If you and I are just different, then there's little more to say. But if we differ about something, then various kinds of conflict begin to look inevitable.

There are two kinds of misunderstanding that might be at the root of disagreement. One kind is the misunderstanding people have of each other: it could turn out that, every time we reject someone else's position, deeper analysis reveals that we have not rejected their position at all, but a position invented by ourselves whose sole purpose is to be rejected by us. We are perpetually on the lookout for straw men, since it is by contrasting ourselves with others that we define our own identity. If disagreeing with someone requires saddling them with a position they don't actually hold, then the better we understand the person, the less we will find ourselves in disagreement with them.

The second potential misunderstanding is a misunderstanding of what it implies for there to be multiple real takes on something. On the assumption that there are objects or propositions under dispute, what do we make of there being a plurality of views concerning them? It is easy to fall into see-sawing between two extremes: a dogmatic or absolutist extreme, whereon only one view of each thing is the correct view, and a radically pluralistic or relativistic extreme, whereon every perspective is right in its own way. It is not always noticed that the relativistic extreme entails not only that all perspectives are right (by their own lights), but also that they are all wrong (by each other's). Are we presented with a choice between one-sided dogmatism and the befuddling spectacle of always being right and wrong at the same time?

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  • Ivan

    Truth relativism is a toxic form of anti-intellectualism. To be sure, there are subjective facts, such as "I like ice cream," which are objective facts about individuals. For claims about objects, there must be some qualified variant of the proposition that renders it capable of being probably true or false (or discernible), or else the proposition is meaningless.

    February 25, 2014

    • Ivan

      Today's physics is imperfect and incomplete. One day, it will be replaced with something better, but something that overlaps with our existing knowledge. Future science won't undo our existing physics because it has to account for two things. 1) Why we believe in physics, and 2) why our physics works. Future physics must incorporate our physics while extending it. To replace relativity, you have to explain not only why we believe relativity, but why the speed of light has reliably appeared to be a constant in all reference frames.

      With superstition, you cannot say the same. The only thing science needs to do away with Zeus is to 1) explain why people were able to maintain the notion despite gods failing to predict anything and gods having no explanatory power. There is no comparable category (2) for superstition.

      March 2, 2014

    • eric

      Ivan, with the Relativity metaphor I am taking a meta-perspective on perspective not claiming which perspective generates more or better "objective" truth claims. You feel you were not indoctrinated...were you born with this perspective you believe in? Maybe we can discuss this a bit at Cathy's meetup...Interpretation and Its Object.

      March 5, 2014

  • Brian

    Here's one explanation of the types of disagreements that arise: Francis Bacon: Aphorism 49. The human understanding resembles not a dry light, but admits a tincture of the will and passions, which generate their own system accordingly: for man always believes more readily that which he prefers. He, therefore, rejects difficulties for want of patience in investigation; sobriety, because it limits his hope; the depths of nature, from superstition; the light of experiment, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should appear to be occupied with common and varying objects; paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar; in short, his feelings imbue and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and sometimes imperceptible ways.

    March 1, 2014

  • Brian

    This became a great discussion. We can return to this topic again and again and it'll (hopefully) look different every time. Things loosen before they quicken

    February 28, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    To quote the very compelling description of the always-relevant topic: "It is not always noticed that the relativistic extreme entails not only that all perspectives are right (by their own lights), but also that they are all wrong (by each other's)."

    This is among my most important questions/measures in my understanding myself and relation with all others. I am rescheduling a departure date to attend this one!

    1 · February 14, 2014

    • George

      "Absolute frames of reference" are as mythical as Penelope's loom. But I must also suggest that taking human subjectivity seriously (e.g. as a kind of tree that renders us all both wooden yet truth-fully fruit-bearing) doesn't compel us to deny "facts" (or "states of affairs" or, with a further nod to Edmund, "affair-complexes"­), whose objectivity is apparent to common sense, even science, not to mention even correlative ("co-relative"­?) Kantian, however "humble" (?), "construct"-io­n of nature (and its various Objekt-s).
      Bottom line: I see no reason why Rudy and Kant couldn't come to terms (if not some sort of satisfactory, if not satisfying, "agreement," or even mutual "understanding"­), or at least enjoy a shared cup of decent coffee.

      February 27, 2014

    • George

      P.S. Wild horses (or the most elegant filly, or the simultaneous Blackhawk face-off) couldn't keep me from this discussion.
      P.P.S. There has been sufficient interest in Hegel's "Science of Logic" (my hosting/leading/organizi­ng of which I hope to similarly suffice).
      Declared (and potential) interest leaves me increasingly inclined to schedule it for alternating Thursdays (rather than Wednesdays)..
      Concerns over approach (e.g. a "close" line-by-line reading might put some off from commitment through the next Cubs' World Series victory) make for 10 discussions.
      A second concern, regarding interest (or dis-interest) among the "Filter"-ed Thursday usuals, leave me only reassured by their consistent interest in matters logical (see above as an example), and a respectable "Science" of it.
      A third concern, mostly about tone, encourages me to select environs, un-"Filtered",­ affording commitment to the text, low-enough volume for 15 to 50 to discuss it, and coffee/tea/sweets on me.

      February 27, 2014

  • Mary M.

    Sorry, but I'm going to have to miss this.

    February 26, 2014

  • Brian

    Disagreement on the basis that views are unfruitful is different than saying they are wrong. In the former case, I'd expect (hope for) less restraint in correcting me since it is not my position so much as sensibility and underlying interests being guarded (same holds whether it is theirs or mine). With regard to positions we often act upon a tolerance principle perhaps on the assumption we don't understand, or else out of concern for fragile egos, whereas participants interested in fruitful prudence should be far less insecure.

    1 · February 23, 2014

    • Ivan

      In philosophy, truth is the fruit.

      February 25, 2014

    • Brian


      February 25, 2014

  • Lynn

    I like where this is going. Too bad the event is full:( I could actually manage this one in my schedule. At any rate, thanks for posting. Enjoy!

    February 25, 2014

    • Thrashionalist

      Given the shortening waiting list, you probably *could* secure a spot by Thursday.

      February 25, 2014

  • Brian

    Maybe next we can try a sequel looking at the misunderstandings at the root of AGREEMENT?

    2 · February 14, 2014

    • Brian

      Deleuze also says that. Yet at our best there's a sense we are thinking along together. The best conversations are sustained even in moments of silence

      February 24, 2014

    • Derwin

      You may be right. But in that case maybe something uncanny is going on… :D

      February 24, 2014

  • Alex

    Comfort. Of predictability. We often create a conflict and hurt ourselves just because it fits our model that we can predict. Comfortably.

    February 23, 2014

  • Gary L.

    I will try to attend.

    February 15, 2014

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