Volume 5, 2007
Logic and Philosophy of the Sciences
Settling Rational Disputes -- A Dead End?
Many wonder at the abundance of disputes, opposing views and schools in philosophy. This abundance is surprising in view of the fact that philosophers are known for their striving and high regard for rationality. (There are, of course, philosophers who attempt to oppose, mostly by rational argumentation, the view that philosophy should be a rational discipline.) Why are all these admirably smart and rational people in so much disagreement with each other? Suvar Köseraif argues that the explanation of this phenomenon may lie in the fact that when two perfectly rational agents A 1 and A 2 disagree about matters of truth, there seems no way they can settle their dispute in purely rational ways. For suppose A1 believes in the truth of claim Q on the basis of premises P and a valid argument P.'.Q, and A 2 believes that ~Q on the basis of premises R and a valid argument R.'. ~Q. Then it would seem on logical, hence rational, grounds that A 1 must reject A2 ' s reasons R, since P.'. ~R is also valid. Thus the reasons P, which led Ai to rationally accept Q, also constitute rational reasons for A 1 to reject R, and consequently reject the argument A2 adduces for ~Q. Symmetrically, A 2 cannot but reject the reasoning A1 adduces for Q. So the dispute between A1 and A 2 concerning the truth of Q cannot be resolved—unless either side compromises its rationality and yields to such nonrational methods as threats, brainwashing, offers of money, etc. If all this is right, we have (rational) reason to be pessimistic about the value of rationality not only in philosophy, but in any sphere of thought, including science. I attempt to offer a rational counterargument against Köseraif's.