De-idealizing Disagreement, Rethinking Relativism

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 17
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    Abstract: Relativism is often motivated in terms of certain types of disagreement. In this paper, we survey the philosophical debates over two such types: faultless disagreement in the case of gustatory conflict, and fundamental disagreement in the case of epistemic conflict. Each of the two discussions makes use of a (largely) implicit conception of judgement: brute judgement in the case of faultless disagreement, and rule-governed judgement in the case of fundamental disagreement. We show that the prevalent accounts work with unreasonably high levels of idealization. We defend two claims. First, philosophical discussions of disagreement need to be de-idealized. Second, once a less idealized account of disagreement is available, both our conception of judgement and our understanding of relativism need to be revised. Our example is a case study in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge: Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s classic Leviathan and the Air-Pump (1985). This case study gives a less idealized account of disagreement that conceptualizes judgements as situated (rather than brute or rule-governed). We argue that this conception can and should be applied to cases of gustatory and epistemic disagreement. The payoff will be a reformulation of relativism in terms of rationally resolvable yet contingent disagreements.