AuthorSutrop, Margit
  1. Introduction

    In contrast to traditional societies, modern pluralist societies can no longer take agreements for granted. On a societal level, it almost seems as if dissent with regard to moral questions is quite normal, while moral consensus represents an exceptional phenomenon (MacIntyre 1984: 6, Gordijn 2001: 225-226). Because of the field work of social scientists and far greater opportunities for travel and communication, we are now more aware than ever before that different social and historical cultures regard different actions as permissible or impermissible. Indeed, there are also intractable moral disagreements in every society. Here are some examples: Should death penalty be permitted? Should abortion and euthanasia be allowed? Should homosexual couples be allowed to marry or adopt children? Should prostitution be legalized? Should surrogate motherhood be allowed? Is it morally acceptable to eat animals or should we all become vegans? Should consumption of alcohol be permitted in public places? Are people free to express their views or should hate speech be prohibited?

    In all these cases of moral disagreements underlie divergent views as to what policies should be adopted. As these disagreements involve some values and the 'ought' or 'ought not' distinction, they therefore fall under a category of normative disagreements. The parties involved in normative disagreements not only disagree about the handling of the issue under dispute, but also about the correct justificatory reasons for their contrary claims.

    Moral disagreements have both theoretical and practical implications. The lack of decisive arguments in support of one's position on these controversial issues may lead one to suspect that some moral issues have no objectively true answers; that moral principles are relative to a society (relativism) or even to an individual (subjectivism). Even under ideal conditions, when all parties arguing about moral questions are knowledgeable and rational, we cannot expect unanimity in judgements. This makes some ethicists ask whether ethical judgements are answerable to anything independent of them. One possible explanation is that there simply is no objective reality (moral facts) that can be captured by our moral judgements.

    The argument from disagreement has motivated various antirealist views: Mackie's error theory (Mackie 1977); the expressivist tradition (Stevenson 1963, Hare 1963, Williams 1985, Blackburn 1998, 1999, Gibbard 2003) as well as forms of relativism (Harman 1975, 2000, Dreier 2009). Realists in ethics (McNaughton 1988, Brink 1989, McGrath 2007, Shafer-Landau 2005) have replied in one or more ways: (1) we have no access to existing moral truths (2) existing disagreement is merely verbal or apparent; (3) some disagreements are due to objective value incommensurability; (4) local irresolvable disagreements exist, but entail no metaphysical consequences for ethics as a whole.

    On the other hand, persistent moral disagreements raise the practical question as to how to manage our coexistence with those whose opinions we do not share (Archard 2012, Ceva 2016, Gowans 2000, Hanrick and Druckman 2017, Mason 2018, Wong 1992, 1995). The consequences of moral, political, and religious disagreements can be very serious, as conflicts can overflow state boundaries and even lead to war. It has been suggested that consensus resolves disagreement in an epistemic sense, while compromise resolves disagreement in the practical sense as it prevents the potentially negative consequences from occurring (Spang 2017).

    What we should aim toward in moral debates is what Marino calls "case consistency": judging similar cases similarly (Marino 2015). The same applies to our judgements about overall obligations. People may fail to judge cases consistently because they may be distorted by emotions, self-interest or other biases. Here improved reasoning and focusing on case consistency can help. But in relation to moral matters we cannot expect agreement in all cases as people direct and prioritize values differently and there can be multiple internally coherent moral systems that do not agree with one another (Marino 2017: 482). I think that even if this does not bring us closer to consensus, it is important to be aware of why we cannot resolve disagreements even if each party is reasoning well.

    The main aim of my paper is to explain the source of moral disagreements and clarify their nature. An adequate reaction to a disagreement requires knowing which type of disagreement we are confronted with. I claim that several moral disagreements are deep conceptual disagreements for the resolution of the disagreement requires the disputants to adopt perspectives that are conceptually unavailable to them. Although deep disagreements are not subject to rational resolution, there is still a rational way to deal with them. We can attempt to bring the framework propositions and concepts that lie at the bottom of deep disagreements to the surface and discuss them directly (Fogelin 1985: 5). Even if we cannot resolve a disagreement, it is important to understand why we disagree and why we cannot come to an agreement through the use of argument. Consensus or compromise can evolve from considering the other possible points of view.

    My paper consists of three parts. In the first part I will analyse what is the specificity of moral disagreements and over what do we disagree. In the second part I will deal with different conceptions of value and show what the empirical studies show about relativity or universality of values. In the third part, I will suggest that there are at least four possible sources of moral disagreements: different concepts of good life, related to our identities, incommensurable fundamental values, different motivating reasons, and different concepts of morality.

  2. What is specific about moral disagreements?

    Noticing that one is in disagreement with other people over some fact in a matter may lead one to think that his/her belief is false. When does this happen? Bryan Frances and Jonathan Matheson (2018) explain the epistemological implications of disagreement as follows:

    If learning that a large number and percentage of your epistemic peers or superiors disagree with you should probably make you lower your confidence in your belief, then learning that those same individuals agree with you should probably make you raise your confidence in your belief--provided they have greater confidence in it than you did before you found out about their agreement. In order to judge how likely one is to be correct with respect to a given proposition, one has to judge one's epistemic position. The main disagreement factors, which help to determine one's epistemic position, are the following: data, evidence brought to bear on answering the question, cognitive ability and other intellectual virtues possessed while answering the question, relevant background knowledge, relevant biases, attentiveness and time devoted to answering the question (Frances 2014: 32). It is due to these disagreement factors that reasonable people may have reasonable but contrary beliefs. One's epistemic position describes how likely it is that one's judgement of a certain belief is correct. Depending on whether one believes that the persons who disagree with him/her over a certain belief are one's peers, superiors or inferiors, one either tends to stick with his/her belief or not. (1)

    However, all this is not very helpful in case of moral disagreements. It has been pointed out by Frances and Matheson (2018) that in many real-world cases of disagreement it is not easy to judge which party is better positioned to answer the question at hand. The question of whether to seek experts' advice to solve peer disagreement about moral matters has led some philosophers to moral skepticism, because moral experts are impossible to identify (McGrath 2007, Decker and Groll 2013).

    Although there may be moral disagreements that can be resolved when factual disagreement is removed or errors in reasoning have been detected, quite often moral conflicts persist despite agreement over empirical facts. In these cases, the commonsense recipe seems unhelpful: taking more time for discussion, checking that no mistakes have been made in the process of argumentation, and making sure that the facts on which views are based are accurate. Both in philosophy and in everyday deliberative democracy, it has been recognized over and over again that such interventions do not help the opposing sides closer to agreement. Disagreements that cannot be resolved through the use of argument and should be addressed by non-rational persuasion have been called ?deep disagreements' (Fogelin 1985, Adams 2005, Duran 2016). These disagreements are deep since the competing positions seem to be incommensurable; they cannot be compared because they do not rely on the same rule-based way of making and legitimizing judgements.

    That some disagreements in ethics are deep disagreements was first indicated by Robert J. Fogelin (1985: 5-6). He showed that although there might be a good deal of agreement about many facts related to abortion, there is no common ground, and in the background of the debate there are some contradictory framework propositions about definitions of life which make it impossible to reach agreement. The disagreement is not over some isolated propositions such as "The fetus is a person", but instead over "a whole system of mutually supporting propositions (and paradigms, models, styles of acting and thinking)" that in his wording constitute a form of life (Fogelin 1985: 6). Fogelin's central thesis is that argumentative discourse necessarily occurs against a background of broadly shared beliefs, preferences and procedures for resolving disagreements, as well as shared commitments to producing compelling grounds. If this shared background is absent, and argumentative context...

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