Context and Content Lectures, Paris, 2010
Disagreement is at the crux of debates between contextualists (including nonindexical contextualists) and relativists. Contextualist accounts are criticized for failing to vindicate the sense that the parties in disputes of taste (etc.) disagree.
…if something were true only for him who held it to be true, there would be no contradiction between the opinions of different people. So to be consistent, any person holding this view would have no right whatever to contradict the opposite view, he would have to espouse the principle: non disputandum est. He would not be able to assert anything at all in the normal sense, and even if his utterances had the form of assertions, they would only have the status of interjections—of expressions of mental states or processes, between which and such states or processes in another person there could be no contradiction.
Get clearer about what disagreement amounts to, and how it bears on the issues about truth and content that divide contextualists and relativists.
What is “real” or “genuine” disagreement?
is unfair to both sides:
So instead let us ask:
Having a disagrement vs. being in disagreement
What is the logical form of the relation we seek to explicate?
x disagrees with y’s φing in context c iff x could not coherently φ without change of mind—that is, without dropping some of her current attitudes.
Two parties disagree if “neither could rationally come to believe what the other asserted without changing their mind.”
George’s attitudes are not cotenable with Sally’s belief, because if George came to believe that McGovern is poor while still holding his other attitudes, his beliefs would be logically incoherent.
Special case of doxastic noncotenability (where attitudes limited to full belief).
cf. the atheist and the agnostic
Bob: The hypothesis is false.
Carol: I disagree, we need to do further testing.
What Bob has said is not incompatible with anything Carol believes. But, in asserting that the hypothesis is false, Bob has expressed a high degree of confidence that it is false. This confidence is not cotenable with Carol’s attitudes, which warrant a lower degree of confidence pending further tests.
Mere practical noncotenability does not always give us that. Suppose
Jane loves Bob more than anyone in the world, and Bob loves Jane more than anyone in the world.
Then we have practical noncotenability, but this is a state of happy concord.
This occurs when Mr. A has a favorable attitude to something, when Mr. B has an unfavorable or less favorable attitude to it, and when neither is content to let the other’s attitude remain unchanged.
The difference between the two senses of “disagreement” is essentially this: the first involves an opposition of beliefs, both of which cannot be true, and the second involves an opposition of attitudes, both of which cannot be satisfied.
— C.L. Stevenson
Whether preclusion of joint satisfaction obtains depends not just on the forces and contents of the relevant attitudes, but on the contexts in which they occur (who has them and when).
There is a cupcake on the table. Alvin and Melvin both want to eat it. They both have a desire with the content to eat that cupcake. [cotenable attitudes, cannot both be satisfied]
Meg and Peg are also looking at the cupcake. Meg desires to eat the frosting only. Peg desires to eat the cake part only. [noncotenable attitudes, can both be satisfied]
These examples assume that the contents of desires are properties or centered propositions, as seems reasonable given that they are expressed with infinitival clauses (to eat the cupcake).
If you think the contents of desires are standard possible-worlds propositions, then you can still distinguish between practical noncotenability and preclusion of joint satisfaction, but the distinction will be merely notional.
x disagrees with y’s φing in context c iff the accuracy of y’s φing in c would preclude the accuracy of x’s (doxastic) attitudes.
A belief/assertion that p in c is accurate [as assessed from cʹ] iff p is true as used at c [and assessed from cʹ].
The centered proposition I am eating a sandwich is true at a world/time/individual triple < w, t, i > iff i is eating a sandwich at t in w.
Andy believes the centered proposition I am eating a sandwich, and David believes its complement, I am not eating a sandwich. [doxastically noncotenable, but joint accuracy is not precluded]
At 1400h Andy believes the centered proposition I am eating a sandwich, and at 1500h David believes the centered proposition Nobody was eating a sandwich an hour ago. [doxastically cotenable, but joint accuracy is precluded]
In at least one sense of disagreement that we care about, when two people disagree in virtue of having certain beliefs, these beliefs cannot all be accurate.
If two people disagree, they can’t both be right!
Doxastic noncotenability doesn’t give us this.
However, preclusion of joint accuracy doesn’t explain the disagreement between the atheist and the agnostic. Both notions are useful.
It is tempting to give a modal analysis of preclusion:
The accuracy of A precludes the accuracy of B iff it is impossible for B to be accurate if A is.
But this won’t work, since it might be impossible for B to be accurate, quite independently of A.
I rely on an intuitive grasp on preclusion.
To disagree with someone’s belief that p is to have beliefs whose contents are jointly incompatible with p.
If two contents are incompatible, then there is no circumstance of evaluation e at which both are true.
Example #1 above shows that the Simple View is inadequate.
You might use the Simple View as a premise in an argument against centered contents:
This is question-begging.
Moreover, we can (perhaps) make the distinction even with regular possible-worlds propositions.
Before we continue, let’s briefly review the positions we distinguished in Lecture 4.
Once we relativize accuracy, there are two interestingly different things we can mean by “preclusion of joint accuracy”:
The accuracy of my attitudes (as assessed from any context) precludes the accuracy of your attitude or speech act (as assessed from that same context).
The accuracy of my attitudes (as asesssed from my context) precludes the accuracy of your attitude or speech act (as assessed from your context).
Instead of asking whether there is “genuine” disagreement in disputes of taste, and whether relativist views can account for “genuine” disagreement, let us ask:
Eduardo: Dulce de leche is tasty!
John: No, it’s not tasty.
We certainly seem to have this. Eduardo likes DDL, and I can’t come to have this attitude without a change in my own attitudes (in what I like).
C.L. Stevenson’s point: Even this is enough to explain much of the argumentation that arises in such disputes. Eduardo might have reason to change my attitude, and to do this he might call my attention to various salient facts about DDL, in an effort to induce a change in my taste. I might reply by noting other facts…
If this is all the disagreement there is, then even indexical contextualists can account for it.
Eduardo: I like dulce de leche!
John: I don’t like it.
Evidence for doxastic non-cotenability:
The “No” in “No, it’s not tasty.” This wouldn’t work with explicit self-avowals:
A: I like this.
B: No, I don’t like it.
I don’t believe that!
What you’re saying is false!
I can’t accept that.
Lopez de Sa suggests: in cases like this, the parties are presupposing that they have relevantly similar tastes.
I think that what Eduardo has asserted — roughly, that he likes DDL — is false, because it conflicts with two of my beliefs: (a) that I don’t like DDL, and (b) that we have relevantly similar tastes.
Is doxastic noncotenability enough?
Does Eduardo think of himself as merely trying to change my taste, or (also) as trying to refute me? (Where the sign of a successful refutation is that the other party retracts the original assertion as inaccurate.)
Arguably, as trying to refute me. If I start liking DDL, I will feel normative pressure to withdraw my earlier assertion that it was tasty.
Given our Retraction Rule, relativist views predict this; NIC views do not.
What about preclusion of joint reflexive accuracy?
If there is preclusion of joint reflexive accuracy, then in principle I can be refuted without any relevant change in my context of assessment.
The relativist view predicts that refutation will have to come by means of a relevant change of perspective. In the case of taste, that seems right.
|Type of account||PNC||DNC||PJA||PJRA|
A faultless disagreement is a situation where there is a thinker A, a thinker B, and a proposition (content of judgement) p, such that:
A believes (judges) that p and B believes (judges) that not-p
Neither A nor B has made a mistake (is at fault).
faultless (w = epistemically warranted, t = true, a = accurate, n = not in violation of norms for assertion)
disagreement (n = doxastic non-cotenability, p = preclusion of joint accuracy)
What might be meant by “the possibility of faultless disagreement”?
The possibility that two parties might hold contradictory views about what is tasty while both believing what is true. (incoherent - this is how antirelativists often interpret the idea)
The possibility that both parties in a dispute of taste can be warranted in holding the views they do, given the basis on which they hold them.
The possibility that two parties who hold contradictory views about what is tasty might both be “getting it right,” in the sense of having accurate beliefs. (supports NIC, doxastic noncotenability)
The possibility that two parties whose tastiness beliefs preclude each others’ accuracy are both succeeding in living up to the norms governing formation and retention of beliefs. (supports relativism, preclusion of joint accuracy)