How to Torture a Reluctant Disagreer
Some of us think that (on facts) people disagree too easily, and so we try to disagree reluctantly if at all with others (we respect). Brian Weatherson found one way to torture such reluctant disagreers: write a paper telling them they should be reluctant to disagree with the reasonable people who don’t think they should be reluctant to disagree:
A popular approach to the epistemology of disagreement, roughly that we should take everyone’s opinion as being equally likely to be true unless we have specific evidence to the contrary, leads to incoherent results when applied to disagreements within epistemology.
Tyler Cowen has found another way to torture a reluctant disagreer: find one that respects your opinion, tell him you disagree with him, but refuse to say what exactly what you disagree about. Instead, invoke vague labels yet insist you have been clear about what you disagree on. Tell him that the fact that he wants clarity is itself a clear indication of the disagreement. Bonus points for having co-written a paper with him on reluctant disagreement.
Here is how it went down. I said:
In Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist, out this week, I seem to be similarly featured as a colorful character who can voice views Tyler is reluctant to embrace directly in a popular book. … I’m pretty sure Tyler wonders all these things [he has me wondering] as well."
Tyler (who co-wrote my review of the rationality of disagreement) countered:
In some ways I think of the whole book as an (attempted) rebuttal to Robin. Robin is the rational constructivist, the logical atomist, the reductionist, and the extreme Darwinian. The Inner Economist is trying to reconcile (modified) economic reasoning and a (modified) version of common sense morality. …
Imagine an intellectual war with Darwin, Fourier, Comte, early Carnap, David Friedman and millenarian Christian eschatology on one side (that’s my mental image of how Robin maps into the history of ideas), with bits from Henry Sidgwick, Hayek, Quine, and William James on the other side, … I am (implicitly) defending gradualism, pluralism, the partial irreduciblity of individual choice, the primacy of civilization, and yes also a certain degree of social artifice. …
Note that Robin is wrong to suggest I don’t reply to his views. I paint him as engaged in a subjective quest — including on bias — rather than standing from an Archimedean point. And within the realm of subjective quests, I try to outline a superior one, especially in the last few chapters of the book. He doesn’t like being relativized in this fashion, and that he doesn’t see me as replying to him is itself an indicator of our underlying differences.
I’m honored to be Tyler’s opposing foil, but I still find it hard to tell exactly what Tyler thinks he disagrees with me about. Somehow I am opposed to "Henry Sidgwick, Hayek, Quine, and William James", to "an Archimedean point", and to "gradualism, pluralism, the partial irreduciblity of individual choice, the primacy of civilization, and … social artifice." But I’m not sure how exactly. Yes, it must say something about our differing styles that I am more uncomfortable disagreeing about vague labels, instead of more precise claims. Come on Tyler, indulge me and try to state as precisely as possible an important claim you think we disagree on.
There followed alternating comments by Tyler, me, Tyler, me, Tyler, and me, but in my view he never clarified our disagreement. So I the reluctant disagreer face the question: how much can or should I reduce such a disagreement only identified via vague labels?