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The Anatomy Of Disagreements

Epistemology, the philosophical study of human knowledge, is particularly concerned about the origin and nature of disagreements. If a single knowledge-based truth represents a rallying point for humanity, how can there be any lasting disagreements?

Imagine two individuals considered ‘epistemic peers,’ i.e., similarly trained, intelligent and rational persons. Each party is provided with the same evidence on a particular topic and is deemed to have the same appreciation of that evidence – a simulation that is not particularly unusual in reality, including in board rooms.

Despite these symmetrical circumstances, it turns out that the two individuals have a different belief on the topic in question. How should they respond to this situation? The handling of such disagreements is the main subject of the philosophical debate, as discussed in The Epistemology of Disagreements: New Essays(2016).***

Under the scenario outlined above, each epistemic peer needs to revise its belief through a reconciliation process, turning a disagreement into a truth-seeking opportunity. Agreeing to disagree, in appearance a sign of noble open-mindedness, is instead an expression of close-mindedness.

The situation gets complicated when the evidence available to the parties differs since the reconciliation process becomes challenging. As alternative truths find their way in the psyche of a gaslighted population, persistent disagreements flourish.

The next level of complication comes from the addition of a threat to any disagreement. In this case, the disagreement morphs into a conflict. The poorly distributed evidence related to COVID-19 combined with a threat to freedom and health underpins the inextricable social conflict related to vaccination.

An example on the world stage relates to China. The Report to Congress of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission published this month notes the broadened state intervention in the economy; China’s deepening engagement in Latin America (incl. Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia) next to its growing influence in Africa; its advances in synthetic biology, new mobility, and cloud computing; and a buildup in nuclear forces (see China Chess).

The analysis has naturally been criticized by China, which operates according to an alternative truth system. The deepening disagreement between the two nations, with growing security threats on both sides, is impossible to solve.

As the number of truth systems continues to multiply like rabbits, so will the number of unresolvable disagreements and potential conflicts.

Eventually, it will be a world of a billion truths, and Truth will disintegrate altogether, to the great displeasure of epistemologists who will be out of a job. Peace will return: as much as there should not be any disagreement when there is a single truth, there cannot be any when there is none.

*** or here for a more digestible and immediately available source.

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