Humble Disagreement

15 March 2018


Now I don’t mean to deny that, to some extent, it’s always been that way. Why did Cain kill Abel? Because they disagreed over some silly sacrifice! And that was just afamilysquabble. Still, that shows how it important it is to disagree agreeably. Otherwise, we could end up killing each other.

Nor do I deny that diversity of thought and opinion are good things. Besides, you can’tforcepeople to agree. This means disagreement is bound to be a permanent feature of human life, which gives us all the more reason to find better ways of dealing with it.

Here’s a simple, seemingly seductive principle for handling disagreement. When other people disagree with you, at leastconsiderthe possibility that maybeyou'rethe one who’s wrong. That sounds like a good strategy, but the problem is that one quickly encounters cases in which one will feel fully justified in violating this simple principle. For example, I believe firmly in the theory of evolution. And I am not at all disposed to abandon that belief just because some creationist questions it.

That doesn’t make me a hypocrite. I still say you should question your beliefs when others disagree, but only therightothers. You aren’t required to question yourself whenever some random know-nothing disagrees. Of course, that raises the crucial question:Who are the people such that disagreement with them should give you pause?

这里有一个建议:当人们通情达理、见多识广时,你应该关心分歧。我所说的“通情达理、见多识广”并不只是指那些恰好与我意见一致的人。But I do think that I should care more about disagreements with people who share myhabits of mind——和我们哲学家所谓的“认知同行”。I am thinking of people who have the habit of basing their beliefs onevidence, who care about thetruth, who aren’t prone to wishful thinking or self-deception, who thinklogicallyrather than emotionally. When people like that disagree with me, it’s much harder to dismiss them as completely wrong-headed.

One could worry, I suppose, that the claim to be able to say in advance whose habits of mind are worth respecting and whose are not is itself a form of intellectual arrogance of just the sort we set out to avoid. I mean, who is to say which habits of mind have a better chance of delivering true beliefs? Why isn’t my confidence that I can pull that trick off just a form ofintellectual snobbery?

也许是这样,但如果你完全不愿意把人分成合理的和不合理的两类,你就不知道如何避免听到汤姆或蒂娜的不同意见。但也许问题在于我们试图双管齐下,即在两种相互竞争的倾向之间找到一条中间道路。Humility may seem torequireyou to be open to the possibility that you are wrong and so to bewillingto reconsider in the face of disagreement. But it would be folly to listen toeverybodywho comes along.

There is another possible approach. Don’t be so wishy-washy! Stick to your gunsregardlessof what other people think, no matterwho他们!当然,你应该花些时间和精力来做决定。当你这样做的时候,你应该权衡所有你能得到的证据,让自己接触到不同的观点。但是一旦你下定了决心,你就不能每次有人不同意你的意见时就去改变它。

现在,反对在分歧面前坚持己见的人当然会拒绝这种方法。他们会说,如果你的一个聪明的同龄人和你一样花时间和关心——也许吧moretime and care—and they come to a different conclusion, that should give you at least a little pause. But the problem is that there willalwaysbe people who disagree. And you can’t just give into them because if you start down that path and where does it stop? Trying to find the middle ground between wishy-washiness and stubbornness is like trying to remain a little bit pregnant. So perhaps sticking to your guns is the right approach.

I’m not saying this is a perfect strategy. Indeed, you could see it as an attempt to turn intellectual stubbornness into an intellectual virtue. But if you're so intellectually stubborn that youneverlisten to anybody who disagrees, you may get stuck in a rut of falsehood! But the opposite intellectual tendency is no intellectual virtue either. If you are so intellectually wishy-washy that youalwayslisten to those who disagree, you will never have any convictions! So there really has to be a middle ground. Finding it may be hard, but with your help, maybe we can. So I hope you will agree to help us search for the golden mean of intellectual virtue.


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, March 15, 2018 -- 11:39 AM

It is relatively easy to be

对于你所拥有的某些概念或信念——你所假定的某些立场或立场,犯错是相对容易的。机会青睐有准备的人,如果一个人有准备并做了必要的功课,将对手拉拢到自己阵营的机会就会大大提高。这是可以实现的,即使是在卓越的智慧存在。我之前提到过,我并不总是在争论中获胜,我肯定地说,胜利并不总是关键,甚至不是必要的。我为什么这么说呢?因为,在极少数情况下,输掉一场争论会导致更罕见的结果:赢家会发现,这场胜利实际上是徒有其表的。虽然他的论点陈述得很好,有恰当的事实和无可挑剔的策略,但结果表明他的意图是基于自我,而不是寻找有用和可行的解决方案。世界杯赛程2022赛程表欧洲区伟大的人每天都会犯这样的错误:据说阿尔伯特·爱因斯坦曾说过,上帝不玩骰子。考虑到地球上生命的进化本质,任何有理智的人都相当肯定这是错误的。我想我们可能会说,在爱因斯坦的辩护中:进化确实玩骰子,而且一直都是。 But, that too, would be unsatisfying, inasmuch as evolution has no such notions, pro or con. Albert had a problem with Darwin. Of course, this did not hold him back, as far as we can tell...

Above all, we need to pick our battles. And not waste time on any of those that have neither added nor fundamental value.

Mr_Joe's picture


Friday, March 16, 2018 -- 12:42 PM

Einstein wasn't referring to

Einstein wasn't referring to evolution (or any vague idea of a lack of chance, or destiny) when he stated that god does not play dice, he was saying it in relation to quantum mechanics. Niels Bohr championed the Copenhagen Interpretation quantum mechanics, but I think Einstein didn't like the idea of entangled particles (or more broadly quantum mechanics, though I'm not too sure on what he thought towards the end of his life).

Wikipedia has a good article on the Bohr-Einstein debates.

Mr_Joe's picture


Friday, March 16, 2018 -- 1:21 PM

Interesting piece. I've

Interesting piece. I've always found it interesting how competitive we can be when we discuss differing points of view, and how much of ourselves we invest in what we believe.

Personally I think the issue is that we take too much of our self worth from what we believe. By doing this, when what we believe is challenged, it feels like we are being challenged. And I suppose in a sense, we are. If we consider ourselves, and our worth, to be a mixture of our utility and what we believe about how the world is and ought to be. But I think that if we were to have some kind of inherent worth, that is, to consider ourselves at least to some extent worthwhile with little regard to our utility or how others see us , this effect would be lessened, and we could have more constructive debates. Maybe (ok, probably) I'm naive in thinking that's viable, but I don't think that if we all thought more of our own worth then our motivation to be useful, good, productive people would be lessened.

The dialectical method isn't the only way of investigating something. I like to think that if we were a bit less competitive as a society we would be much better at discussing issues, or disagreeing without so much vitriol.


I think like everything it's a murky shade of grey.. The more you know about any given issue the more reasonable it is to expect that your opinion won't be changed, because you're less likely to encounter new information that might change your view. Of course, that doesn't consider that emotions may also play a large part in deciding what we feel about certain things. I've read of vegetarians who've only become vegetarian after encountering something that made them feel awful about eating meat, even if whatever they encountered was already known to them. There's a difference between considering how you might feel if you were "x" in "y" situation, and actually experiencing being "x" in "y" situation.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, September 27, 2020 -- 10:46 AM

Skepticism toward one's own

Skepticism toward one's own belief is valid. Humility is steeped in self denigration and comes with baggage. Encouraging someone to be humble is to take their power. Encouraging them to be skeptical does the opposite.

So what does it mean to disagree. I like the persuade vs. truth angle. Those are two different actions. To this I would add trust. At different points in our lives we have limited ability to agree at all. Some never have that ability - these people need care not persuasion. That care is compromised when trust is not secured (think of children, seniors, injured and disabled people.) Building agreements based on trust are the most important of all actions. This is missing in this discussion.

The call for solace in method is vapid. Saying it is complicated is a cop out. Let's get it on people. This was indeed a terrible place to leave it.

Here is a worthy project in this vein.

The funny thing here is that the scene they dissect is 3 minutes or so after the first shot that set a gunman running to the protection of mother culture.


This was a good show. I listen to these and find comments I left in past shows or think about where I was when this aired...


Cross posting with the September 27, 2020 airing of the show...