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Disagreement, objectivity, and insensitive assessments

Research project This project investigates different forms of disagreement and objective pretensions outside straightforwardly descriptive discourse. The primary focus is on moral disagreement, but also on conditionals, epistemic modals, and matters of taste.

Moral judgments, conditional claims, epistemic modals, and taste all seem to display different degrees of subjectivity, where different judges are concerned to assess different facts. Nevertheless, judges seem to be in some sort of disagreement, and their judgments to aspire to various kinds of objectivity. The main question of the project is how to understand this complex picture. Evidence suggests that pragmatic factors affect the extent to which we take to judges to be in disagreement over an issue, and affect whether we think that if one is right, the other must be wrong. The project investigates how these pragmatic factors function.

Head of project

Gunnar Björnsson
Other position

Project overview

Project period:

2013-01-29 2016-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research subject

Philosophy and philosophy of science

Project description

Issues of agreement and disagreement are central to philosophical problems of objectivity and relativity wherever these arise. In the theory of conditionals, for example, a central problem is to understand the “subjectivity” of conditionals, i.e. the possibility that two conditional judgments P→Q and P→~Q both seem perfectly well-founded when made in different epistemic contexts. In metaethics, the interpretation of moral disagreement divides objectivists, relativists and noncognitivists, but it is also highly relevant for the understanding of so-called subjective oughts and issues of rationality under uncertainty. Similar issues arise concerning non-moral normative judgments, epistemic modals and matters of taste. In all these fields, it seems that we rightly reject judgments made by others, not because the condition that they were concerned to get right in their judgments does not in fact hold, but because some other condition that we are more concerned with does not hold. The apparent existence of such felicitous “insensitive assessments” creates problem for standard ways of understanding disagreement and standard ways of representing the content of judgments in relativistic discourse. The purpose of this project is to explain why certain locutions in natural language invites felicitous insensitive assessments, and more generally to understand the philosophical relevance of intuitions about agreement and disagreement.