Interpersonal disagreement happens all the time. How to properly characterize interpersonal disagreement and how to respond to it are important problems, but the existence of such disagreements at least is obvious. The existence of intrapersonal disagreement, however, is another matter. On the one hand, we do change our minds sometimes, especially when new evidence comes in, and so there is a clear enough sense in which we can be characterized as having disagreements with our past selves. But what about synchronic disagreements with ourselves? Are such cases possible, or is there something about the nature of belief that rules out the possibility of knowingly holding beliefs which cannot be rationally held at the same time? In this paper, I argue that there can be cases of intrapersonal synchronic disagreement, and that such disagreements can be deep, in the same way that interpersonal disagreements can be deep. For intrapersonal disagreements, just like interpersonal disagreements, can be grounded in conflicting frameworks for interpreting and reasoning about the world. I also argue that synchronic intrapersonal disagreements are peer disagreements. The paper ends with a discussion of four possible responses to interpersonal deep disagreements, concluding that if those responses are sometimes rational responses in the interpersonal case, then they are also sometimes rational responses in the intrapersonal case.
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On merely verbal disputes, see Jenkins (2014).
Lynch (2013) similarly characterizes cases of changing one’s mind as cases of diachronic intrapersonal disagreement, and in cases where the change involves adopting a new fundamental epistemic principle, he imagines the later time-slice of a person as attempting to offer reasons to the earlier time-slice. But Lynch is not committed, as far as I know, to the possibility of synchronic intrapersonal disagreement.
As the case plays out, Jane comes to realize that she has been behaving as though she does not trust Jim, and so she attributes to herself, third-personally, the belief that Jim is unfaithful. So, Coliva notes, Jane can coherently assert “I believe Jim is unfaithful, although he is not.” Whereas that assertion would normally be Moore-paradoxical, in this case it is not.
The felicity of Jane’s assertion in this case seems clear. But note that the felicity of Jane’s assertion does not presuppose that Jane is correct in attributing to herself the belief that Jim is unfaithful. Jane’s assertion only works because she is providing a third-personal interpretation of her belief-set in light of her patterns of behaviour—and third-personal attributions of mental states are fallible, even when directed toward oneself.
Compare Anselm’s aim in the Proslogion to provide rational arguments for God’s existence, not because he ever doubted God’s existence, but rather because he thought that rational arguments can deepen his understanding of God’s existence and nature.
See also Adler (2001) on the claim that rationality is constitutive rather than regulatory for belief.
Note that because Fred recognizes that this set of beliefs is inconsistent, he needs to reason paraconsistently in order to avoid explosion of his belief-system. But unless Fred is a logician he’s probably not bothered very much by that. Again, the point isn’t that Fred is a paradigm of a rational person; the point is only that he seems like a perfectly ordinary, psychologically plausible person.
As Coliva notes, dialetheism is not going to help a person like Fred. He doesn’t think that there are true contradictions; he just doesn’t know which proposition in the inconsistent set to give up. For an approach to paraconsistent logic without dialetheism, see Carnielli and Rodrigues (2019).
See Godden and Brenner (2010) for the suggestion that arguments by analogy can make it rational for a participant in an argument to adopt a revised conceptual scheme and its associated revised inference rules. Similarly, Shields (2018) sees deep disagreements as disagreements about how certain concepts should be understood, and he argues that assertions in deep disagreements are more stipulative than descriptive.
Whereas Anselm (1965) takes the idea of God to be the idea of a being than which no greater can be conceived, perhaps Fred can take the idea of God to be the idea of a being than which no greater actually exists.
Aikin (2018), for example, defends a Dialecticality Requirement which is consistent with this sort of argument strategy.
See Bondy (2019) for more on the epistemic norm of inference and argument.
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Many thanks to David Godden for valuable discussion of this paper, and to two anonymous referees for this journal for their insightful feedback on a previous draft.
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The author, Patrick Bondy, declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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Bondy, P. Deeply Disagreeing with Myself: Synchronic Intrapersonal Deep Disagreements. Topoi (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-020-09707-0
- Deep disagreement
- Peer disagreement
- Intrapersonal disagreement
- Rational resolutions
- Epistemic rationality