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Gunnar Björnsson: Disagreement

Lecture by Gunnar Björnsson (Umeå University, Sweden ), organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Deep and systematic moral disagreement provides difficulties for orthodox cognitivist accounts of disagreement. Even if some accounts of reference fixing for moral terms make it possible for parties of such disagreement to have the same determinate moral properties in mind, we seem to have no positive reason to think that this is actually the case. Though it seems obvious that the parties disagree, it is not obvious that their claims have incompatible representational contents. Apparently, then, our sense of disagreement has some other source. But the best-known non-cognitive account of moral disagreement, in terms of Stevensonian conflicts in attitude, faces its own problems. Not all cases involving conflicting attitudes seem to be cases of disagreement and not all moral disagreement seems to involve conflicting attitudes. Moreover, there are no obvious independently motivated amendments of the account that give us a unified understanding of disagreement. Puzzles analogous to these arise for accounts of disagreements in taste.

In this talk, I develop and propose an account of disagreement in judgment that promises a principled explanation of why some differences in mental states constitute disagreement whereas differences in other states do not. According to this account –Discursivism – disagreement in judgment is essentially tied to communication and consists in a certain potential for disagreement in discourse. Focusing specifically on moral disagreement and disagreements in taste, I begin by outlining problems with existing accounts of disagreement, including Stevensonian accounts and a recent proposal by Michael Ridge. I then show how Discursivism straightforwardly yields the right result in the problematic cases while offering deep explanations of why only certain kinds of mental states ground disagreements.

Gunnar Björnsson

Gunnar Björnsson is Professor of Philosophy at Umeå University, Sweden. His interests include metaethics, the philosophy of language, naturalized theories about thought and its place in nature, and moral responsibility. He has published papers in journals such as Ethics, Mind, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Noûs, Oxford Studies in Metaethics and Philosophical Studies.

When & where?

Wednesday 9 March, 15.15 – 17.00
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:01 February 2016 11.11 a.m.