Saturday, June 9, 2012

Appeal to Disagreement in Modern Philosophy

I have a request for readers of the blog: I'm looking for passages in modern authors which put forth disagreement-based skeptical arguments. I've found passages in Montaigne (of course), Descartes, and Hume. Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.


  1. In his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke opens with three main arguments why political authority shouldn't be used in matters concerning religion. His third argument seems to use the problem of disagreement:

    "In the third place. The care of the Salvation of Mens Souls cannot belong to the Magistrate; because, though the rigour of Laws and the force of Penalties were capable to convince and change Mens minds, yet would not that help at all to the Salvation of their Souls. For there being but one Truth, one way to heaven; what hopes is there that more Men would be led into it, if they had no other Rule to follow but the Religion of the Court; and were put under a necessity to quit the Light of their own Reason; to oppose the Dictates of their own Consciences; and blindly to resign up themselves to the Will of their Governors, and to the Religion, which either Ignorance, Ambition, or Superstition had chanced to establish in the Countries where they were born? In the variety and contradiction of Opinions in Religion, wherein the Princes of the World are as much divided as in their Secular Interests, the narrow way would be much straitned [sic]. One Country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the World would be put under an Obligation of following their Princes in the ways that lead to Destruction. And that which heightens the absurdity, and very ill suits the Notion of a Deity, Men would owe their eternal Happiness or Misery to the places of their Nativity.”

  2. Thanks a lot for the quotation.

  3. Kant uses dispute to motivate skeptical arguments all over the place. (Below are some passages from a paper I just wrote.)

    Metaphysics, he says, is a "battlefield of... endless controversies" (CPR, Axiii)... “[T]he dogmatic use of [reason]... leads to groundless assertions, to which one can oppose equally plausible ones, thus to skepticism” (CPR, B22–3)...

    ... Given the “inexorable deception and bragging of the sophists,” skeptics are driven “[t]o incite reason against itself, to hand it weapons on both sides, and then to watch its heated struggle quietly and scornfully.” As a propaedeutic to criticism, “there is really no other course but to set the boasting of one side against another, which stands on the same rights, in order at least to shock reason, by means of the resistance of an enemy, into raising some doubts about its pretensions" (CPR, A756-7/B784-5)...

    ... For Kant, the presence of dispute—especially deep, persistent dispute—is not to be dismissed as irrelevant to the truth of a claim or argument; to do so would not only be dogmatic (or “dictatorial” [CPR, A738/B766]), it would be to deny our common humanity (cf., Blomberg Logic, 119 [151]). In addition to “merely formal” criteria of truth, Kant recognizes as a “touchstone of truth... the comparison of our judgments with those of others, because the subjective will not be present in all others in the same way, so that illusion can thereby be cleared up. The incompatibility of the judgments of others with our own is thus an external mark of error” (Jasche Logic, 563 [57]; Dohna-Lundwacken Logic, 458 [721]). For Kant, nothing is settled until disputes are resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, i.e., to the satisfaction of universal human reason. “As long as there is controversy concerning a thing, then, as long as disputes are exchanged by this side or the other, the thing is not yet settled at all” (Blomberg Logic, 161 [204])...


    A similar use of ancient skepticism is made by Hegel, of course. But usually he presents 'disagreement' as arising internally, so it's sometimes less obvious that he has disagreement in mind. He characterizes 'dogmatism' as the holding of "one-sided determinations... to the exclusion of their opposites" (Encyclopedia Logic, sec. 32).

    Hegel's concern about disagreement is perhaps most obvious in the importance he places on solving the problem of the criterion and equipollence skepticism more generally. (He mentions the problem of the criterion in the Introduction to the Phenomenology.)

  4. Those are great references, so thanks a lot. I don't know how I had forgotten about Kant. I even read Forster's book in which he emphasizes the influence of Pyrrhonian skepticism on Kant.

  5. I'd be happy to send you a copy of my just-completed paper on Kant and Pyrrhonism, if you have any interest. I argue that Pyrrhonism is a far deeper influence on Kant than is recognized even by those commentators who have emphasized Pyrrhonism's importance to Kant (e.g., Forster, Guyer).

  6. Sorry I hadn't seen this comment was awaiting moderation. Yes, I'd like to take a look at the paper.