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SOCRATES ON DISAGREEMENTS AND KNOWLEDGE
Introduction The (epistemological) problem of peer disagreement: Epistemic peer: someone just as smart as you are, and just as well acquainted with the evidence.
Introduction A case of peer disagreement: You believe that p, Someone else (a peer) believes that not-p. You meet and talk. After a thorough discussion (“full disclosure”, i. e. after both parties to the disagreement have presented their reasons), the disagreement remains.
Introduction What should you think/believe now? • Should you be less confident that p? • Should you not change your mind at all? • Should you with-hold judgment that p? • Should you think that the person you had the discussion is not your peer?
Introduction The significance of the problem: (a) Practical significance – situations similar to the idealized peer disagreement case abound. (b) Theoretical significance – peer disagreement is linked to central philosophical issues of (epistemic) justification, knowledge, etc.
Introduction Outline of the presentation: (i) Socrates on disagreeing with yourself. (ii) Socrates on disagreeing with others. (iii) Remarks on a (possible) Socratic reaction to peer disagreement.
Disagreeing With Yourself • Socrates does not address the issue of peer-disagreement directly. • But, for Socrates, there is a connection between (peer) disagreement and a lack of knowledge. • • This connection has ramifications for the issue of peer disagreement.
Part I Disagreeing With Yourself
Disagreeing With Yourself Socratic method (elenchos), in Plato’s early dialogues: • Socrates asks the interlocutor a question the answer to which is meant to exhibit the interlocutor’s wisdom concerning the definition of some moral concept. • The interlocutor provides the answer, p. • The interlocutor provides answers, q, r, and s to a series of other Socratic questions. • Socrates goes on to show that these further answers entail the negation of the original answer and that the interlocutor believes both p and not-p.
Disagreeing With Yourself (Charmides 159 B-160 D, abridged): “So I think, ” he said, “taking it all together, that what you ask about [i. e. what is temperance] is a sort of quietness. ” “Perhaps you are right, ” I said, “Let’s see if there is anything in it. Tell me, temperance is one of the admirable things, isn’t it? ” “Yes indeed, ” he said. “Well then, ” I said, “is facility in learning more admirable or difficulty in learning? ” “Facility. ” “But facility in learning is learning quickly? And difficulty in learning is learning quietly and slowly? ” “Yes. ” “And to teach another person quickly—isn’t this far more admirable than to teach him quietly and slowly? ” “Yes. ” “Well then, to recall and to remember quietly and slowly—is this more admirable, or to do it vehemently and quickly? ” “Vehemently, ” he said, “and quickly. ” … “Therefore, Charmides, ” I said, “in all these cases, we think that quickness and speed are more admirable than slowness and quietness? ” “It seems likely, ” he said. “We conclude then that temperance would not be a kind of quietness. ”
Disagreeing With Yourself • Socrates asks the interlocutor (Charmides) “what is temperance”. • Charmides provides the answer, p (temperance is “a sort of quietness”). • Charmides provides answers, to a series of other Socratic questions (“temperance is admirable”, “learning quietly is not admirable”). • Socrates goes on to show that these answers entail the negation of the original answer (that “temperance is not quietness”) and that Charmides believes both p and not-p. What’s the point of this procedure?
Disagreeing With Yourself “Callicles will not agree with you, Callicles, but will be dissonant with you all your life long. And yet for my part, my good man, I think it’s better to have my lyre or a chorus that I might lead out of tune and dissonant, and have the vast majority of men disagree with me and contradict me, than to be out of harmony with myself, to contradict myself, though I’m only one person. ” (Gorgias 482 B-C, modified)
Disagreeing With Yourself • Disagreeing with yourself: holding contradictory beliefs. • Beliefs are dispositional, one need not be aware that one is holding inconsistent beliefs. • Why is disagreeing with yourself so bad?
Disagreeing With Yourself “Well then, given that your opinion wavers so much, how likely is it that you know about justice and injustice? ” (Alciabiades 112 D, abridged)
Disagreeing With Yourself • Two contradictory beliefs about the same subject matter cannot both be true. • Knowledge entails having true beliefs about the subject matter. • If one holds contradictory beliefs about the subject matter, one holds false beliefs about the subject matter, and therefore does not know. • Even one’s true beliefs do not count as knowledge, if the “neighboring beliefs” are false. • Disagreement within one person shows that this person lacks the relevant knowledge.
Disagreeing With Yourself • The main aim of Socratic method – showing that the interlocutor disagrees with himself/herself, and therefore lacks (moral) knowledge. • Consequently, if the interlocutor disagrees with himself, he can never live a happy life (unless he acquires the moral knowledge).
Part II Disagreeing With Others
Disagreeing With Others § Socrates disavows moral knowledge. § Socrates also thinks that moral knowledge is necessary for a just and happy life. § This forces him to search for a teacher, someone who does have moral knowledge (a “moral expert”).
Disagreeing With Others Danger!! “There is a far greater risk in buying teachings than in buying food. When you buy food and drink from the merchant you can take each item back home from the store in its own container and before you ingest it into your body you can lay it all out and call in an expert for consultation as to what should be eaten or drunk and what not, and how much and when. So there’s not much risk in your purchase. But you cannot carry teachings away in a separate container. You put down your money and take the teaching away in your soul by having learned it, and off you go, either helped or injured. “ (Protagoras 314 B) How to decide who should teach us?
Disagreeing With Others The problem for Socrates is that, at least when it comes to morality, there are no universally accepted moral experts. How should a non-expert recognize experts?
Disagreeing With Others Socrates takes the indicator-properties that enable to recognize expertise to be the following: § produce success in practicing expertise § give an account (a definition) of the particular things that belong the domain of expertise, § make reliable prognostic statements about the particular things that belong to the domain of expertise § recognize another expert in the same domain § teach his/her knowledge § expert agrees with other experts on the facts of her expertise
Disagreeing With Others • Lack of disagreement is an indicator-property of the presence of expertise • In contemporary epistemology: Disagreement shows (or may show) that at least one of the putative knowers does not, in fact, know (or is not an expert). But which one?
Disagreeing With Others • Lack of disagreement is an indicator-property of the presence of knowledge/expertise • In contemporary epistemology: Disagreement shows that at least one of the putative knowers does not, in fact, know (or is not an expert). But which one? • Socratic position: Disagreement shows that neither of the putative knowers does, in fact, know (or is an expert).
Disagreeing With Others S: “Yes, my noble friend, people in general are good teachers of that [Greek language], and it would be only fair to praise them for their teaching. ” A: “Why? ” S: “Because they have what it takes to be good teachers of the subject. ” A: “What do you mean by that? ” Socrates: “Don’t you see that somebody who is going to teach anything must first know it himself? Isn’t that right? ” Alciabiades: “Of course. ” S: “And don’t people who know something agree with each other, not disagree? ” A: “Yes. ” S: “If people disagree about something, would you say that they know it? ” A: Of course not. S: “Then how could they be teachers of it? ” (Alcibiades 111 A)
Disagreeing With Others In the context of the dialogue Alcibiades, Socrates is making a specific point: people (in general) can teach only the things they know (e. g. language), but not the things they don’t know (what is justice, what is virtue. etc. ). But Socrates also makes a very general point: (D) In case of disagreement, neither of the parties has knowledge Does (D) make sense?
Disagreeing With Others Background assumptions: v. The disagreement is persistent and remains in place after “full disclosure” (i. e. after both parties to the disagreement have presented their reasons). v. The parties of the disagreement are both equally open- minded, gifted, etc. They are peers.
Disagreeing With Others Improved (D): In case of disagreement about p involving mutual full disclosure of reasons and arguments for and against p, and given that the disagreeing parties are epistemic peers, neither of the parties can be said to know that p. Does Improved (D) make sense?
Disagreeing With Others But sometimes one can know whithout having access to one’s reasons (externalism)? ! Sometimes one just can’t share one’s reasons (internalism)? ! Socratic response: • If you know, you always have access to your reasons. • There are no reasons that can’t be shared.
Disagreeing With Others Dialectical notion of knowledge. • Knowledge is essentially transferable. • One must have knowledge in order to transfer knowledge. • If one knows then, necassarily, one is able to teach (in the sense of explain why p is true, and also convince that p is true) what one knows.
Disagreeing With Others Whether I know that p is not only up to me, it also depends on whether other people understand me. In that sense, Socrates’ notion of knowledge is social (unlike, e. g. Descartes’s).
Disagreeing With Others • Given that Socraties is committed to the dialectical notion of knowledge, persistent disagreement is possible only if one fails to know (i. e. fails to explain and convince). • Improved (D) makes perfect sense (at least from the Socratic viewpoint).
Disagreeing With Others • If one disagrees after full disclosure, this means that one is unable to teach (what one thinks one knows). If one is not able to teach (what think one knows), one does not, in fact, know. • The indicator-property of the lack of disagreement is not an independent criterion for expertise – the lack of disagreement among experts follows, for Socrates, from their ability to teach (to transmit knowledge).
Disagreeing With Others What would a Socratic reaction to peer-disagreement look like? “It’s not the fact that we disagree that should make me less confident. Rather, it’s the fact that I can’t convince you (“teach you”) that should make me think that I don’t know what I think I know. ” Socratic approach is interestingly different from the contemporary approaches, since in invokes the notion of knowledge, rather than the notion of “degrees of conviction”.
Conclusion • Given the dialectical notion of knowledge, both types of disagreement (intra-personal and inter-personal) indicate lack of knowledge (although not of truth).
Conclusion • Given the dialectical notion of knowledge, both types of disagreement (intra-personal and inter-personal) indicate lack of knowledge (although not of truth). • If you disagree with someone (who is open-minded and willing to learn), and are unable to convince her, Socrates would say that it is very likely that you don’t know what you are talking about!
Disagreement and Knowledge Thank you for your attention!