Disagreement is Disrespect

Consider these dueling bumper stickers:



Here religious conservatives do seem unfairly maligned: seeing a behavior as immoral is not at all the same as “hating.”  These folks also rightly seethe at how they are usually portrayed in popular film and TV, and at seeing their democratic ideals violated when even local voting majorities can’t prevent their kids from being taught evolution in public schools.  You can feel this resentment in the enthusiasm for Palin.  (Of course since I’m not religious about God, sexual preference, or democracy, this all bothers me lots less.)

But this does seem a handy opportunity to repeat that while disagreement isn’t hate, it is disrespect.  When you knowingly disagree with someone you are judging them to be less rational than you, at least on that topic.  (Judging them less informed or experienced by itself can’t create disagreement.)  It might be only a minor disrespect, if you think this disagreement suggests little about whether you’d disagree with them elsewhere.  But disagreement is disrespect, nonetheless.

Added: Wikipedia says hate speech is:

Speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability. [emphasis added]

How exactly do you disagree with someone’s moral views without degrading them?  Can you really say pedophelia is disgusting without degrading pedophiles?

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  • Dave

    When you knowingly disagree with someone you are judging them to be less rational than you, at least on that topic.

    Or, theoretically, more rational than you on that topic. This could happen if you know you are biased on that topic, but choose to accept your biases for non-rational purposes. Ability to reflect does not necessarily imply desire to change.

  • flo

    Disagreement seems to be disrespect only if the truth can be determined. However, if the ‘true’ answer is not available, the difference might be probabilistic. And that might even be true, if the disagreement is driven by personal choices of moral preferences which were formed by probabilistic genetic differences or upbringing.

  • Dave

    Unpacking this one more level, there is a hidden assertion that thinking “I am more rational than X” is disrespectful. Presumably thinking “I am taller than X” or “I am prettier than X” isn’t seen as disrespectful, and it is certainly arguable whether thinking “I am more intelligent than X” is disrespectful. What makes rationality so uniquely favored as to think that all imputations of differences in rational ability must be rigorously purged? Is it just the equivalence of all Turing-complete machines, or is it more than that?

  • I’m sure this has come up before, but IIRC your argument about disagreement being irrational (which I presume is the basis of your post) depends critically on the agents having a common prior. A reasonable conclusion from disagreement is not that the agents are irrational, but that they have different priors.

  • I agree. And disagreement is a symmetric relation. Therefore, if you disagree with someone, you can point this out by saying “you disrespect me”.

  • CattleProd

    I disagree. Which does not mean that I disrespect Robin, but rather that I think that his opinion on this particular issue is wrong. Nevertheless, we are disagreeing about something that is not factual, and therefore it is possible to reason one’s way to differing opinions. I respect Robin’s ability to reason, on the whole, and because of that I give attention to his arguments. If he were not equally willing to entertain the opposing perspective, then I might disrespect his irrationality just a little bit. 😉

    Disagreement presents an opportunity for both parties to *gain* respect for the other by evaluating each other’s competency and level-headedness and ability to reason from a different set of assumptions. Even if the disagreement about the particular issue remains, the overall level of respect may increase.

  • James Hubbard

    Disrespect is usually offensive to most people. Most people typically do not want to engage with others that are offensive. By framing disagreement this way, it seems as though you’re trying to cut off debate and discussion of points of view that are not in agreement. You can not automatically assume that someone will believe your data or even have to time to consider it. Likewise, you may not be able to do the same. I refuse to automatically agree with someone if I can’t verify what they’re saying.

    Supposedly, this is where peer review comes into play. If enough people are knowledgeable about a given topic and have the “tools” to evaluate it, we should be able to trust their opinion. However, it seems as though peer review isn’t what it is cracked up to be either.

    Why shouldn’t disrespect be replaced by lack of trust in the data on which a person is forming their arguments? Perhaps this is even more offensive.

  • Dave, in the case you describe, it seems you don’t really believe what you say. Also, most people think it disrespectful to think yourself prettier than another.

    James A., see here.

    James H., to keep the peace perhaps you prefer to pretend that your disrespect is something else.

    Cattle and Flo, just because one has no absolute proof of the answer at the moment doesn’t mean all reasoning is equally valid.

  • David

    “Here religious conservatives do seem unfairly maligned: seeing a behavior as immoral is not at all the same as hating.”

    I believe that statement is an oversimplification of what the “hate is not a family value” bumper sticker communicates, at least for some of us. Spend a few minutes talking to the fundamentalist types that bumper sticker is aimed at, and you’ll quickly understand why it says what it says. Do you think that people preaching that 9/11 and hurricane Katrina were acts of punishment from God for homosexuality and/or whatever they deem to be Godless that day are pronouncing their love?

    Also, your statement that seeing behavior as immoral is not at all the same as hating is devoid of context. If I believe that women that show their faces in public are engaging in immoral behavior, or that all homosexuals are damned to eternal hell, do you think it is possible to posses those beliefs without it affecting my disposition towards people? It seems to me a deeper discussion is needed, as I do agree with the premise that it is possible to see a behavior as immoral without hating. Yet on another level, there is some relationship between the two.

  • Phil

    If you disagree, can’t you argue that you’re disrespectful of the IDEA rather than that you’re disrespectful of the PERSON?

    Any time that person X accuses person Y of hate, it’s hate against *the person* (as shown in the Wikipedia excerpt above). Nobody ever accuses anyone of hate speech against an *idea*, which suggests that even the most zealous attackers of hate speech understand there’s a difference.

  • Julian Morrison

    If you see behavior as seriously wrong, and you don’t hate the person doing it, that’s a bit strange in itself, no?

    It seems pretty obvious that what the pro-gay folks are saying is really: “you should not have that opinion”. (For the record: I agree with them. Negligent epistemology is much more cumulatively harmful than negligent driving.)

  • burger flipper

    Was disagreement a topic in the Blogginheads? Any idea when that’s getting posted?

  • Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing a lot of the reason that speech like “homosexuality is immoral” is considered hate speech, is because the people doing it practice it very selectively.

    It’s like this: if I view A, B, and C as equally immoral and common, but spend 99% of my efforts ridiculing people who do B, that would suggest I’m not just “promoting my moral code”, but actually trying to degrade B-people, not simply B, and not simply advising about the ills of A/B/C.

    Detecting hate speech is thus a matter of inferring intent, which is why anti-hate-speech activists have such a hard time giving a hard and fast rule about which speech implies hate speech.

    The test of my explanation is this: if you were constantly rallying about how disgusting pedophilia is, while basically ignoring similarly-bad crimes, would people characterize that as “anti-pedophile hate speech”?

  • If all we were talking about was disagreement, that would be one thing. When one side of the argument makes their side law, we’ve escalated disagreement into something else. I don’t see it as “you should not have that opinion”, I see it as “Have your opinion if you want, don’t force that opinion on me or anybody else”. I can’t control what people think. Controlling other people’s behavior just because you don’t approve of it, where there is no compelling reason to, that’s another.

    My children think abortion should only be for the health of the woman. I told them that is your personal choice, but asked why should the government have any say when it is truly between a woman, her doctor and her God, and nobody else. They got quiet on that, and did a little thinking amongst themselves.

  • I don’t think that it’s disrespect to think yourself prettier than someone else. Perhaps this is merely social naivete on my part. Is it disrespect to think yourself taller than someone else?

    Disagreement doesn’t necessarily imply that you think the other person is less rational (he quibbled), as you can theoretically legitimately disagree in a situation where you believe that:

    (1) The other person is more rational than you.

    (2) The other person severely underestimates your own rationality, perhaps due to a prior that says most people are untrained, and lack of decisive evidence for your own rationality.

    (3) You have a piece of object-level evidence the other person could not have reasonably obtained, and thanks to (2) they won’t update on seeing that you have a different opinion.

    So why isn’t the other person irrational? Because their assumption (2) works on average, but not in this particular interaction.

    All this is not realistic, but it does seem to me that it’s possible to have a universe in which two rational people have common knowledge of disagreement, provided that they don’t have common knowledge of the other’s rationality, but do have common knowledge of the true fact that rationality is statistically rare in their universe. We can even suppose that people can always accurately estimate their own degree of rationality, providing that the less rational don’t always honestly report this fact.

  • michael vassar

    I think that the reaction to homosexuality is a reaction, largely, to voiced disagreement about what is or is not immoral. To many people, sin is OK and is only human. So long as it’s at least slightly hidden it isn’t an affront to social values. It’s open disagreement about what is and isn’t immoral that cannot be tolerated at all.

  • Floccina

    We need to define hate the best definition that I have heard is: Hate is an ill will. e.g. I hope that bastard dies a miserable death at an early age.

    At risk of disrespecting its supporters:
    The hate speech definition IMO shows how ridiculous the law is. If the writers of that law where honest instead that they would have made the punishment for a white person killing/assaulting etc. a black greater than for other killing/assaulting.

  • “Can you really say pedophelia is disgusting without degrading pedophiles?”

    I find the consumption of broccoli to be disgusting. Watching someone else eating broccoli causes me a bit of displeasure. Furthermore, people who eat broccoli are likely to eat many other foods I find disgusting. But I understand that others have different senses of taste than I do. Therefore, I don’t think my opinion on broccoli degrades broccoli eaters. Similarly, it’s possible to be disgusted by the mere thought of others engaging in a sexual practice without degrading those who engage in this sexual practice.

    True, I am saying “I find X to be disgusting” rather than “X is disgusting” but is there really much practical difference? In both cases I would benefit from a ban on X.

  • CattleProd

    Not all reasoning is equally valid, I agree. But if you remove from your original argument the mentions of religion and moral issues though, the argument does not stand. Disagreement is not disrespect in any absolute sense of those words. If you intend this argument to be only applied in the context of religious/moral disagreements, then perhaps you would further define what exactly is being disrespected – the person, the idea, and/or the act whose morality is being questioned?

    Isn’t it possible for me to think that it is morally wrong to abort a child, but to respect free will and the right to choose *above* my personal feelings on the morality of abortion? If so, doesn’t the ‘disrespect’ that you claim is the result of disagreement depend on how conflicting values are layered within the disagreeing individual?

  • Prejudice – and its irrational extreme, bigotry – is a natural and normal part of the human experience.

    For years, we have labeled certain kinds of prejudice unacceptable, and simply ignored other kinds. But what this amounts to is a definition of criminal thought, which we infer from other people’s actions.

    Consider the hypothetical case where I have an employee who is incompetent. If this employee is not of any minority caste, I can judge that employee incompetent and fire him, and no questions are asked. However, if that employee has a skin color different from mine, I will need a much larger quantity of evidence to prove that he has been fired for incompetence and not out of racism. This requires me to retain an incompetent employee longer than I would prefer, out of fear and social pressure, at some cost to my company.

    I believe prejudice should be not only accepted, but advertised. If I’m prejudiced against Albanians, making a law that says I can’t fire you for being Albanian just means I have to find a different reason to fire you – and you still end up fired. It’s much better for all concerned if I just come right out and say “I don’t hire Albanians”, so we don’t waste our time and energy on one another.

    It is generally not the case that a prejudiced person independently wants to conceal his prejudice; it happens because of social pressure. But if we legislate that pressure, all we do is drive it underground – it doesn’t go away. Why is it better for a town to have a secret society that plots their anti-Albanian efforts, instead of just a series of big signs that say “Albanian go home”? If I were Albanian, I would prefer to see big signs, so I could go somewhere else. Indeed, I would go somewhere else even if I were not Albanian, because I don’t like that brand of prejudice… but I don’t think we need to make it illegal. Leave it in the open, so I can see where it is.

  • Eliezer, I think you focus on “disagreement” meaning having differing estimates, rather than foreseeing to disagree.

  • I think the “Hate is not a Family Value” bumper sticker is directed less at religious conservatives generally (I doubt it’s directed at Mother Teresa or Billy Graham) than the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson brand of religious conservatism. The type that might occasionally blame feminists or gays for terrorist attacks, or that might idiosyncratically express more outrage at gay adoption than adoption by shellfish-eaters.

    I think that should be clarified when we’re discussing whether a disagreement is rooted in hatred masquerading as a family value.

    Of course, beyond that, Hate may BE a family value, it probably enhances in-group/out-group dynamics.

  • Carl Shulman


    With Eliezer’s weakening of the common knowledge assumption (which does happen in reality), the agent pair could indeed foresee to disagree until they were able to credibly signal their respective rationalities (Bayesian wannabe status).

  • Tim Tyler

    For differences arising from different priors, see:

    4 times out of 5 when I see the “rationists should not knowingly disagree” point being made, too little is made of the fact that they might have different priors


    For differences arising from different optimisation targets, see:

    Different interests have historically contributed to many disagreements. About global warming. About whether cigarettes cause cancer. About energy policy. About the safety of foods and drugs. About gender roles in society. And about whether to go to war. The different interests arise from genetic differences, from differences in development (phenotypic plasticity) and from differences in circumstances (e.g. accidents of geography).


  • “Disagreement is disrespect!”


    “Didn’t you hear me?”

    “Stop respecting each other!”


  • “I’m not saying I hate you; I’m just saying I think it’s good that you’ll be spending an eternity in the Lake of Fire for the things you’ve done.”

  • Shmuel

    “When you knowingly disagree with someone you are judging them to be less rational than you, at least on that topic.”

    I think lobster is the best food in the world, but I wouldn’t think someone is “less rational” than me if they preferred veal.

  • Luke V.

    One variable I think you might be missing is that, in an ideal world (and there are a lot of idealists out there), people admit that their being incorrect is a logical possibility and welcome rational disagreement – to disagree with a person who might desire to be disagreed with would not be disrespectful.

    For a person of this mentality, being disagreed with is a win-win situation. If his opponent makes a sound argument and proves him wrong, he is enlightened and brought closer to truth (his goal), either by acknowledging his error, or by amending the weak point in his initial position. If his opponent makes a poor argument, it makes his original position look stronger by comparison and provides an opportunity for a coherent rebuttal (including the possibility of converting the disagreer, if the disagreer is also of this class of enlightened people who don’t mind being disagreed with).

    Now, most the time this variable is not in play, especially in the emotionally laden examples you give, like homosexuality or abortion. Few people approach this kind of issue with that mindset, although there may be some, and I admire them.

    But there are certain places where this can and does play a large role. The most obvious examples would be in academia, particularly mathematics and the hard sciences. I really don’t see a mathematician refuting another’s conjecture as disrespect, because they themselves don’t see it as such.

    In fact, one could argue (perhaps rightly) that respect or disrespect in disagreement is entirely a matter of intent and perceived intent. There is nothing inherently disrespectful about disagreement, it all has to do with the motivation (and perceived motivation) for disagreeing in the first place.

  • MZ

    Here religious conservatives do seem unfairly maligned: seeing a behavior as immoral is not at all the same as “hating.”

    Unfortunately, the history of homophobia belies this charitable interpretation. What the bumper sticker may be referring to is not the simple notion that homosexuality is wrong, but rather the inveterate racism, sexism and homophobia that historically predominated non-progressive, ie, “conservative” sentiments.

    When you knowingly disagree with someone you are judging them to be less rational than you, at least on that topic.

    Are you saying that you never have a disagreement where you know (or think) you know more about the topic? I can disprove that with an example from this very blog. A few days ago you posted about a couple of students who found 1/4 of sushi to be mislabeled. You implicitly agreed with that proposition since, at least, you didn’t criticize it.

    I know you’re not stupid, and as a professional practitioner of the rational art, you’re probably more rational than me — this I can admit — but I happened to check the methods, so I knew more about the topic then you did (I also know more about biomolecular techniques), so I’m confident that our disagreement was based on a different level of understanding between us.

  • Nonsense. For disagreeing to equal disrespect, you have to assume that the actors involved have no sense that they themselves have ever been wrong. “Disrespect” here defined as “to deign not worthy of consideration, to treat contemptuously.” I often respect those who disagree with me, in part because I think they can improve my thinking/clarity/etc, and in part because I understand that even though I think they are wrong there is always a chance that they might be right.

    Indeed, there are plenty of people to whom I don’t bother to voice my disagreement because I don’t respect them.

    There might be a zone of discourse — a proposal to encourage child abuse or something like that — that elicits something more than mere disagreement. In that case, certainly disrespect would come into play. But it isn’t coequal with (or intrinsic to) disagreement

  • Pedophiles are not a designated victim group and it is perfectly acceptable to hate them.

  • Alas, most of these comments show little awareness of the many other posts on disagreement I’ve made before on this blog. This suggests I get little cumulative gain from multiple blog posts – I must fit all my arguments on this subject into a single blog post, quit this subject, or quit blogging.

  • Douglas Knight

    As far as I can tell, “hate” is a shibboleth; it has some vague meaning, like “unacceptable disagreement or disapproval,” but mainly it indicates allegiance. People who say “lover the sinner; hate the sin” are failing the test, thinking that they can infer the problem with “hate” from examples, when it is a problem by definition. They are quite parallel to the atheists who think they know the meaning of “God.”

    Has there been any attempt, since, say, 1970, to just ban the teaching of evolution, not to supplement or replace it? How politically viable is bilateral disarmament?

  • I always hated a lot of what my brother would say to me, and it would get me angry. But, I never hated him, I just hated what he said.

    Some things in this world should be hated. Hate is a good thing, it can motivate someone to do something that is right.

    The premise that “all hate is bad” is incorrect.

    I hate what Robin Hanson just said two comments up from this one. Therefore, I must hate Robin?

  • aj

    Can you really say pedophelia is disgusting without degrading pedophiles?

    Can you really say strawberry icecream is disgusting without degrading people who like strawberry icecream?

  • “This suggests I get little cumulative gain from multiple blog posts…”

    It’s hard enough to get substantial cumulative gain from multiple paragraphs within a single blog post.

  • Disagreement is Disrespect

    Image via Wikipedia Robin Hanson’s posts at Overcoming Bias often intrigue me.  He appears to be engaging, perhaps deliberately, in what the philosopher Grice called…

  • sonic

    This is an interesting subject and you should keep blogging.

    It is not possible to disagree with someone without disrespecting them if your assumption is that the ‘thought is itself the thinker’
    If, however, you consider that the thought is something the person has- and can change at will (like a pair of shoes), then one can imagine it possible to disagree with the thought without disrespecting the thinker.
    Religious people do not consider the thought to be the thinker (the thinker is an immortal being from god)
    People who do not believe in a spirit do often consider the thought to be the thinker.
    I believe this is a basic misunderstanding between the two parties.

  • John Maxwell IV

    Great, now we have to come up with a new word meaning

    “my mental model differs from yours”

    because Robin co-opted “disagree” to mean

    “my mental model differs from yours, and since you’re not as rational as I am, I’m keeping mine”

    True, maybe it is rational for us to abandon our mental models immediately if someone who’s more rational hands out a new one from above. But that’s not what actually happens. Most people are not equipped to change their views on a dime. Our language should reflect what is really going on, not what we wish was going on. So how about we continue to use “disagree” the way most people use it, eh?

    In any case, we are going to need a word for the indeterminate state, wherein two people know that their models differ and they’re still exploring whose model is better / who is being more rational. I like “disagree” just fine.

  • Andy the Programmer

    Words are flimsy, and debating the meaning of words seems dull to me. Still, I can’t help but remark that from my point of view, “hate” really is one of the most abused words in modern parlance.

    There is an emotion that goes far beyond anger – one that totally consumes the subject with the urgent motive to destroy, to kill, to cause the object to cease to be at all. I’m not saying I’ve experienced it often, but I know this emotion, and it is a distinct thing very unlike anger, and hardly related to mere disapproval. And the only English word I’m aware of that seems appropriate to this emotion is “hate.” Using the word for anything less has always seemed, to me, too much like lying.

  • Robin: “Alas, most of these comments show little awareness of the many other posts on disagreement I’ve made before on this blog. This suggests I get little cumulative gain from multiple blog posts – I must fit all my arguments on this subject into a single blog post, quit this subject, or quit blogging.”

    This assumes that those of us who regularly read your posts also regularly comment. I read this post, along with many of the others, and I don’t know what I think. My initial reaction is that it is more complicated than that; importantly, as an above poster mentioned, because I often disagree without disregarding my own fallibility. Particularly when confronted with information which is counter-intuitive or contrary to previous evidence and theories, I tend to be inclined towards disagreement without absolute commitment to the notion that I am correct.

    So I would suggest that in the question of political partisan rancor, you are correct. Clearly, disagreement with a deeply religious lifestyle or with homosexuality does equate disrespect. But I’m not (entirely) persuaded that this applies to all variations of disagreement. In which case, further posts on the topic are of considerable utility if persuading cases like mine is in your interest.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: other posts on disagreement

    Some of the more obvious problems with this post seem to be:

    That it says “disagreement” – not “disagreement about facts“. Disagreement about policy is hardly “disrespect”.

    It posits that disagreement can not arise out of differences of knowledge and experience. The idea that: “Judging them less informed or experienced by itself can’t create disagreement” assumes that both parties have time to go through an exhaustive process of sharing everything they know that pertains to the topic with each other. This is hardly very practical – for one thing, most human output bandwidth is pathetic, while human input bandwidth is huge.

    You’ve made the first point elsewhere – but should ideally have written “about facts” in this blog post.

  • JimmyH

    Tim, all disagreements are about facts. What else would you be talking about?

    Take your “policy” example. If everyone understood all the implications of a policy, there would be no disagreement.

    person1: policy x will save has a net economic benifit of $1,000,000 a year.
    person2: yes, lets inact it.
    person3: It does, but the policy will affect me negatively, and I don’t care about everyone else. I will fight against it.

    Where’s the disagreement? Either the truth makes peope agree on a fact that they were disputing (p1: “it’s worth 1mil” p2 “it’s worth -500k”), and then come to the same policy decision, or the “disagreement” is confusing two place and one place words. There is no disagreement when someone says “this policy helps me” and someone else says “this policy hurts me”

  • Regarding previous posts: well, yes, I’m a newcomer to the blog. And so, after reading the post about all the previous posts, I tried to catch up (not a prerequisite on most blogs, but fair enough) by hitting tag “disagreement” — reading posts marked with said tag, even those by author of said post, did not enlighten me as to why disagreement should require disrespect. Nor did I find a clear definition of disrespect. I did find (rather hidden — at bottom of commentary on “Free Will” segment of bloggingheads) a link to a talk on disrespect that seemed like it would be a useful primer, but it seems like a dead link. Either that or my internet is on the fritz (not unusual). But at any rate, some conclusions:
    1. Having people who have not read previous posts suggests success (new readers)
    2. Referring to your well-formed opinions without using the tools that would allow readers to access them is, um, kind of annoying. Perhaps this is because I am disagreeing with you, and therefore you do not respect me, in which case
    3. I’m happy to stop reading, thus helping to alleviate your problem of having to deal with people who have not read you previously.


  • Jim Powers

    Not to fall into the trap here but disagreement and disrespect don’t always have an ‘is’ relationship, as in synonym, otherwise why have two different words?

    Here is an example: Two scientists collaborate on an experiment, prior to performing the experiment the two scientists agreed on a hypothesis they wanted the experiment to support, based on that they worked out ahead of time what the results of the experiment should be if the hypothesis were correct. After performing the experiment the data generated did not support the hypothesis, more remarkably the data was wildly different that what would have been predicted if the hypothesis were true.

    Afterwards, the two scientists begin to wonder what the new data represents. During the process of discussing the results the two scientists eventually wind up disagreeing about how to interpret the meaning of the results and formulate two different hypotheses the both agree of the previous data but have important differences. They now set off to formulate new experiments to test the validity of their new thinking.

    In the above scenario I cannot conceive of how the word ‘disrespect’ plays a role.

  • fieldingbandolier

    August, thanks for the link.

    Restating my response to you:

    The author seems to be conflating discrediting statements and statements of disagreement. Discrediting statements are intended to preempt any conceptual engagement with someone who disagrees, and yes, they’re inherently disrespectful. When you say someone has no credibility, then you have an excuse to disregard anything they say.

    Disagreement, on the other hand, is an invitation for dialogue. Rather than suggest disrespect, I’d say it implies the opposite.

    “How exactly do you disagree with someone’s moral views without degrading them? Can you really say pedophelia (sic) is disgusting without degrading pedophiles?”

    No, you can’t. But if you’re saying pedophilia is disgusting, you also can’t really say the intent of your statement was to disagree with pedophilia – use of the term “disgusting” means you’ve made a judgment about the credibility of anyone who might disagree that preempts any possibility of a dialogue in which two sides are expressing disagreement.

    That’s a very different statement than, “The consequences of pedophilia are too grave to consider it viable.” At least with that statement, you’ve invited debate on the topic of the consequences of pedophilia, which is the rational basis by which it is rightly discredited.

    By the author’s argument, parents and teachers would be among the most disrespectful people in the world, and I find that notion ludicrous.

    If the author would care to correct my misunderstanding of his position, however, I wouldn’t view his attempt as disrespectful. Rather the opposite, in fact.

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: Tim, all disagreements are about facts. What else would you be talking about?

    To quote from my citation of Robin’s consent on the issue:

    You might say that there’s other kinds of disagreement besides disagreeing about what’s true, and I’m happy to grant that.

    – The last minute of: http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/12535

    What else is there – besides facts? Well, there’s the future. The future is not established as fact. From the perspective of embedded observers, the future is not completely predictable (according to HUP).

    For example, a girl may disagree with her mother about whether they should visit the ice cream parlour, or the hardware store. That is not a disagreement over truth or facts – it’s an expression of the different targets they want to steer the future towards – due to the fact that they are are distinct organisms with different goals.

    In such cases, the parties are not normally disagreeing over a fact. Rather, their dispute concerns uncertain future events. Maybe the mother’s pragmatism will win out. Or maybe the girl will convince her mother that the ice cream really will give her the curves that will land her the future mate she needs. It all depends on exactly what path their argument takes. We cannot say that one side has the truth, and the other is biased, because neither side has access to the truth. What will happen may be something not known to either party, or to anyone else, even in theory (due to HUP).

    You could say that there’s no disagreement, because there’s no point in arguing – because each side recognises the situation – and realises that arguing is pointless. However, in reality, that doesn’t always happen. In fact there is often disagreement behaviour in such circumstances. Such issues are often dealt with using behaviour which extremely closely resembles behaviour surrounding disagreements over facts. Cases are put, arbitrators are appointed, voices are raised, consensus is assessed, etc. Functionally speaking, different motives often do lead to real disagreements over policies.

  • Bonnie

    Robin, I hope you will not quit blogging and I hope you will not quit this topic either. I enjoy your blog contributions a great deal. (I currently hope to be able to convince myself that you are wrong about disagreement and disrespect. Or, that if you are not wrong, that the relationship between disagreement and disrespect you suggest should not trouble me. I also look forward to more thinking and learning on the topic.)

  • Yvain

    In terms of evolutionary psychology, disagreement would have come from self-interested people trying to convince a tribe of their own differing goals. In that context, there’s no reason not to disagree with someone more intelligent than you are, and so there’s no correlation between your decision to disagree with a person and your opinions of their intelligence (as long as you do it nicely).

    If our mind has models related to argument and disagreement, they probably come from those dark pre-Hansonian days of our early history. People don’t intuitively connect opinion with level of rationality, and so people with whom you disagree don’t feel insulted that you think you’re more rational than they.

    I can even feel this sort of thing being implemented in my mind. Isaac Newton was obviously smarter than I, but I naturally interpret his alchemy and religious prophecies as “a really smart guy with a cognitive blind spot.” Robin and Eliezer are obviously smarter than I, but when I disagree with one of their blog posts, my first thought is still immediately “Oh, look, Robin/Eliezer’s got another cognitive blind spot.” That’s not healthy thinking, and I’m not proud of it, but it’s my natural thought process and from what I can see it’s the natural thought process of most other people I interact with.

    I think Robin’s generally right that we need to become more aware of this sort of thinking and root it out. That being said, I think the naive concept of disagreement does have its uses. When I interact with people smarter than I am, it doesn’t mean they’re right and I’m wrong 100% of the time we disagree. It means they’re probably right 66% of the time we disagree, and I 33%. The unspoken social convention that allows me to disagree even though I know I’m less intelligent leads to arguments by which the two of us can compare evidence and eventually come to a more accurate set of beliefs than if we always accepted the smarter person’s opinion (as long as the less intelligent person is sufficiently humble and open-minded).

    If disagreement doesn’t have much to do with opinion of intelligence, and if you can disagree with someone on one (or every) issue and still think they’re more intelligent than you are, disagreement doesn’t have to mean disrespect.

  • Dihymo

    Myself, I get into the diametrically (on a two dimensional grid of “priors to reason” and “shoot first apologize later to set the table first and then debate”) opposite conundrum. I try so hard to present all my priors and establish a common ground that people assume I’m insulting them and treating them like toddlers.

  • Dihymo


    The possibility of an infinite loop, catch-22, vicious cycle (it’s a cognitive hypersensitivity that Jesus himself couldn’t get me to correct) forces me to choose to judge rather than let it pass. I transfer the question of respect to whether I’ll press the issue. Infinite loops rob everybody of truth, justice, and other valuables. I think there’s a lack of attention to the chaotic dillema of feedback loops so I can’t ignore it. I just spend less time whining about it than I used to and more time preventing myself from falling into such loops. I choose to be judge or jury for my own reasons, but I refuse to be the executioner.

  • JimmyH

    Tim, the future *is* fact, it just hasn’t happened *yet*. If you’ve read EY’s quantum sequence, or know anything about the “many worlds” interpretation of QM, you’ll know that the future is deterministic.

    In your example the girl is really trying to convince her mom of the fact “your overall utility function will be higher (when weighted by the square of the amplitude of decoherent futures) if you buy me icecream”, since that is the fact that will convince her mom to buy her icecream. Neither one may understand exactly what they’re arguing, but neither do most philosophers who appeal to occam’s razor.

    It may be a hard question to give a confident answer to, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fact, and that doesn’t mean you sit there and drool instead of calculating your expected utility (with the information and processing power available) and making a choice.

    On a more general note, many commenters seem to have a different working definition of “disagreement” than Robin. RH seems to define “disagreement” as “differing probability distributions”, while many commenters seem to define it as “differing probability distributions *with no weight to other guys credibility*”. If I’m arguing with someone, it means we started with different probability distributions. If midway through the argument someone stops us and asks for our current probability distributions, we very well may give identical distributions (if we know we’re both rational).

    I still say “I still don’t see how your argument leads to X being true, but since you do I must update accordingly”. Robin would say we don’t disagree, but seemingly others would say we do (on the other definition). It’s possible to not disagree (RH), but still find it arguing to be productive.

    If you say “I still don’t see how your argument leads to X beign true, and I’m unwilling to move my distribution to match your post argument distribution”, that necessarily means you think the other guy is less rational, because you are in a disagreement (RH).

  • Tim Tyler

    Re: the future *is* fact, it just hasn’t happened *yet*. If you’ve read EY’s quantum sequence, or know anything about the “many worlds” interpretation of QM, you’ll know that the future is deterministic.

    From the multiverse perspective, the girl and the mother exist in many worlds – in some of which the couple have gone to the ice cream vendor, and others the hardware store.

    That doesn’t help them in their discussion too much – and it doesn’t prove that one of them is right about their destination, and the other is biased.

    Determinism doesn’t help predict the future much if you can’t find out what the initial state is. That is, of course, exactly the situation embedded observers face.

    Check the definition of “fact” in the dictionary. Note the repeated use of the past tense.

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  • Nick


    I used to be baffled when I told someone that what they were saying was clearly false and they got all butt-hurt about it; in retrospect it’s obvious that I was saying they were idiots, no matter how nicely I said it. Now I’m wondering if that makes me the idiot.

    But the fact that this post does not clear up the mystery of why I don’t think people who prefer lobster to veal are morons makes it utterly useless. It has been damned by a devastating counterexample and I shall force this post from my mind.

  • Bruce

    I don’t agree with this post. I don’t see disagreement as disrespect. I don’t think that not agreeing with someone means your being disrespectful, sure, if you say “you’re an idiot”, “that’s stupid”, or something along those lines, then you are being disrespectful. However, I don’t think it’s right to say that if someone doesn’t agree with you, they are disrespecting you, they don’t have to agree just because you put your opinion out first.

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  • Maijn

    When I disagree with someone, I don’t necessarily see them as less intelligent. I generally look at people that disagree with me as people with a different point of view. I believe a person can disagree with someone in a disrespectful way. For example, I say “I don’t believe in that stuff” when referring to other person’s religion or faith, that is disrespectful. However, I can say “I do not agree with their concepts or faith”, that is more respectful. It is all about how you address a person. Some people don’t understand that they do not have to disrespect people they disagree with.

  • Peter David Jones

    Disagreement implies a claim of superior rationality only where there is also some sort of claim that the speaker’s belief was some sort of inevitable result of a process of reasoning. However, anybody can “bet” or take sides on a doubtful issue, in which case the other person’s mileage may vary, as they say. I have never met nationalist so good that they suspend judgement
    t on all doubtful issues.

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  • Suzie Brewer

    No, disagreeing with someone is not disrespect. We do not all agree, but that does not mean I do not respect other people and their beliefs and opinions. If you think something tastes good and I don’t that does not mean I disrespect you, or that you disrespect me. It simply means we do not agree.That is the same for whatever people believe. People can be disrespectful in how they act during a disagreement, but simply not agreeing is just that.

  • separatethechaff

    Religious conservatives are absolutely not “unfairly maligned” as you suggest and your own post gives the rebuttal in the very definition of Hate Speech where you gloss over the other pieces of the definition which do not adhere to your narrow application to those holding moral views — something akin to the like-minded claims re: “the war on Christmas”.
    With mounting legislation designed to single out persons of the LGBT community, encompassing marriage; adoption; market access; job protection; especially noting the extreme laws of policing public restrooms, the motives are NOT simply moral views of persons “unfairly maligned”, but are, by definition, hate — Hate Speech: “speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation.” The country continues to grow in demand that all persons be treated with equal treatment and attempts at silencing even the discussion of it will not stop legal enforcement.
    BTW–teaching established scientific facts in public schools is not a threat to democracy–facts are facts whether one believes them or not. The sun will appear again tomorrow without the need for a blood sacrifice.

  • DKrissaOgletorn30

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