AuthorKnoll, Manuel
  1. The contemporary awareness of moral disagreements and value conflicts

    The modern world is not only a world characterized by moral disagreements and value conflicts but a world that is well aware of such disagreements and conflicts. People disagree on essentials such as religion, values, politics, and the good life and on specific moral issues such as capital punishment, gay marriage, and preferential hiring. For the later Rawls, a "modern democratic society is characterized not simply by a pluralism of comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines but by a pluralism of incompatible yet reasonable comprehensive doctrines" (Rawls 2005: XVI). Nietzsche even claims that serious value conflicts are a feature of most of human history. According to his Genealogy of Morality, the "two opposing values 'good and bad,' 'good and evil' have fought a terrible battle for thousands of years on earth" (Nietzsche 1997, I 16: 31). Following Nietzsche, Max Weber holds that modernity is characterized by both an irresolvable pluralism and struggle of values. For Weber, scientific reason is unable to determine which of two or more conflicting goals or values is more desirable or worth choosing (Weber 1949). Similarly, Isaiah Berlin claims that there is a pluralism of incompatible values and that the clash of these values is rationally irresolvable (Berlin 1997: 6-16, Berlin 2013: 94-99). In his Theory of Justice, Rawls (1971) tries to cope with disagreements over the good by arguing for a rational agreement on a liberal conception of justice and a just political framework that allows opposing conceptions of a good life to coexist. In Political Liberalism, Rawls claims that in a pluralist society, in which different persons accept incompatible yet reasonable comprehensive doctrines, an "overlapping consensus" on a political conception of justice can be reached (Rawls 2005, IV [section][section] 1-8: 133-172, cf. Mason 1993: 9-12). However, recent research has convincingly argued that a rational agreement or an "overlapping consensus" on justice is not a realistic goal; thus we must come to terms with deep disagreements on justice and the law (Besson 2005, Hampshire 1999, Herwig 1984, Knoll 2019a, MacIntyre 1988: 1-7, Waldron 1999, Warnke 1993).

    This article starts out with several arguments for the thesis of deep disagreements, according to which widespread and deep disagreements on values, justice, and moral issues exist that are resistant to rational solution (section 2). Deep disagreements are disagreements in good faith that cannot be resolved through the use of reasons and arguments (cf. Fogelin 2005: 8, 11). According to Robert J. Fogelin, the cause why deep disagreements cannot be resolved through the use of reasons and arguments is a clash of "underlying principles" or "framework propositions" (2005: 8-9, cf. section 2). This article does not adopt, reject or extensively discuss Fogelin's foundationalist approach. The arguments and positions introduced in sections 2 and 3 suggest that there are several different reasons why disagreements in good faith cannot be rationally resolved (for a distinction between shallow and deep epistemic disagreements and a sophisticated analysis of the latter, see Lynch 2010).

    In a second step this paper asks about the attitudes, behaviors, and actions we should take towards those with whom we disagree, but have to live with. As private persons we disagree with our partners, relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors on a wide range of topics, as citizens we conflict with the moral and political views of the political parties our fellow citizens vote for, and as researchers, experts and philosophers we disagree with our colleagues about a variety of scientific and philosophical issues.

    This article claims that in order to come to terms with deep disagreements we should develop an ethics of disagreement. A major justification for the necessity of such an ethics is that theoretical disagreements often turn into practical conflicts (section 3). This paper outlines an ethics of deep disagreement that is primarily conceived of as a form of virtue ethics. Most fundamentally, such an ethics asks opposing parties in moral and intellectual conflicts to recognize and admit that deep disagreements exist. This means that the conflicting parties should not oversimplify the matter by degrading the opponent as ignorant, irrational, unintelligent, insincere, malicious, and the like without evidence or good reasons. This means as well that one should recognize that an opposing position is worthy of respect even if one thinks that it is wrong. Respect of this kind should be a main motivation for seeking dialogue and for hearing the opponent's reasons and arguments for her position. In the language of virtue ethics the mentioned attitudes could be designated as the virtues of acknowledging deep disagreements and of recognizing opposing positions as worthy of respect and as the virtue of seeking dialogue and mutual understanding (sections 3 and 4). Both virtues should lead to a better comprehension of opposing positions and might in certain cases even show the way to a resolution of moral or intellectual conflicts.

    Deep disagreements on values, justice, and moral issues occur in particular in the political arena. Citizens and political parties disagree on appropriate or just laws concerning abortion, taxation, and human cloning. An ethics of deep disagreements in politics stresses in particular the virtue of seeking dialogue and mutual understanding and puts emphasis on free speech, public debates, and public reason. In general, it favors deliberative democracy in which moral arguments about public policies are exchanged in public forums. An ethics of disagreement does not hope for consensus. Rather, it stresses bargaining and compromise and claims that procedures such as majority rule are necessary to resolve moral conflicts in a fair and peaceful way (section 4).

    An ethics of disagreement needs to include reflections on toleration as a moral and political virtue (section 5). In the past, the value of intercultural tolerance has been emphasized in particular by anthropologists in the context of moral diversity and cultural ethical relativism. (1) Because widespread moral disagreements undermine moral objectivism and ethical realism, it has been argued that we should tolerate those with whom we disagree (cf. Gowans 2000: 6-9, 33-35). Section 5 presents an argument for toleration based on deep disagreements claiming that acknowledging deep disagreements on values, justice, and moral issues and recognizing opposing positions as worthy of respect has important consequences for the debate on toleration.

    The ethics of disagreement rests on a meta-ethical and epistemological position that could be called 'moderate relativism' or 'moderate skepticism'. This position rejects ethical realism and cognitivism (2); it equally rejects both an 'absolute skepticism' ("no truths can be discerned") and an 'absolute relativism' ("everything is true or morally valid only for an individual or group"; "de gustibus disputandum non est"). The ethics of disagreement defends attitudes and virtues that are inextricably linked or even identical with certain values such as respect, dialogue, toleration, and peaceful coexistence. Such an ethics does not claim that these values are true, objective, and universally valid or that they can be demonstrated or rationally grounded in an ultimate way. Nevertheless, it contends that they are more beneficial or can be defended with better reasons and arguments than other values such as racial superiority, intolerance, conquest, and war. (3) In line with this, the ethics of disagreement asserts that not all behaviors, beliefs or values can be tolerated (section 5). Similarly, not all views and beliefs about the world are equally rational and defensible. Some are logically consistent and in line with our observations and experiences, others are not. For a comprehensive defense of 'moderate relativism' and 'moderate skepticism', and a discussion of the relation between different forms of relativism and skepticism, and of how these exactly relate to the values of an ethics of disagreement, a further article would be needed.

  2. Arguments for the thesis of deep disagreements

    Moral disagreements are frequently discussed in connection with the claims that moral judgments are objective and express universally valid truths (for definitions of moral objectivity, see Gowans 2000: 3 and Pojman and Fieser 2012: 31-32). In the contemporary debate, it is common to refer to basic human rights for moral judgments that are objective and have universal authority (cf. Gowans 2000: 4-6). In the debate, several different arguments against moral objectivism have been advanced (cf. Gowans 2000: 13-15). An important one is the argument from moral disagreement. If morality were objective, "reasonable and well-informed persons would tend to agree about their moral beliefs" (Gowans 2000: 3-4). It is reasonable to expect agreement in such cases because we can observe considerable agreement on the knowledge of the natural sciences. This knowledge is usually held to be objective and its objectivity is commonly taken to be the reason for the agreement among natural scientists. Nevertheless, also natural scientists often disagree with each other, and the 'objective' results of the natural sciences partially depend on 'subjective' methods and perspectives.

    In the area of morality we cannot detect any agreement on moral beliefs. Rather, "there are widespread and deep moral disagreements that appear persistently resistant to rational solution" (Gowans 2000: 2, cf. 18-22). In modern societies people disagree on specific moral issues such as affirmative action, euthanasia, and surrogate motherhood. Considering the depth and insolubility of moral disagreements, it is very improbable that morality is...

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