Reasonable Disagreement:

18 Mar

Rawls asks:  How might reasonable disagreement come about? (Rawls, 35)

He then asserts there are five obstacles, “burdens of judgment,” that even when objectively considering situations there can still be reasonable disagreement: (a) empirical and scientific evidence may be conflicting and complex, thus hard to evaluate; (b) even if things are relevant, people can disagree about their weight, thus we may arrive at different conclusions; (c) all of our concepts, to some degree, are vague and subject to hard cases, thus we must rely on judgment and interpretation where reasonable people may disagree; (d) the way we assess evidence is subject to our values. (e) Often it is hard to assess overall circumstances because both sides of an issue may have reasonable points.

The final “general fact” Rawls states: “that many of our most important political judgments involving the basic political values are made subject to conditions such that it is highly unlikely that conscientious and fully reasonable persons, even after free and open discussion, can exercise their powers of reason so that all arrive at the same conclusion.”

Of course Rawls states “…for we always begin work within ideal theory.” To me this is an interesting concept. Reasonable disagreement within ideal theory, AND ideals are subjective? This seems contradictory but obvious at the same time. It is a cyclical argument, how are we to agree on an ideal situation when there is reasonable disagreement? Rawls suggests we can reasonably disagree and reach the same conclusion. At the same time we know people come from different places and cultures, and values differ. Even if reasonable disagreement exists, how are we to rationally recognize this concept, especially given people generally don’t have the capacity to reasonably disagree in the first place. This goes back to Locke’s idea of consent, in order to consent to authority one must be educated to a degree which allows this. If people are to reasonably disagree, it would seem they must first be educated to a degree where argument could occur in a theater that would foster intelligent discussion.

World leaders, arguably some of the most educated people in the world, frequently make stupid comments and knowledgeably make decisions that kill people by the thousand. Decisions that are not reasonable or rational.  These decisions are made to foster their own interests, most likely with reasonable consideration. It seems, beginning work within ideal theory is possible but not practical. Do you believe assuming ideal theory is productive? It seems, by working within ideal theory and applying his five maxims it is possible to have reasonable disagreement. However, how are we to achieve ideal theory in the first place when nobody with power wants to, or is willing to apply “ideal theory,” as it may compromise their power?

1 Comment

Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


One response to “Reasonable Disagreement:

  1. chan6435

    March 22, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    I agree with your conclusion that both Locke and Rawls appear to present their ideas with complete optimism. They focus on the idealistic and how things should be not on how things are, but maybe this is the curse of political thought? Maybe what Rawls is trying to make known is that although the theories are idealistic it does not mean that parts of the theory cannot be implemented. If you reach for the moon you still land upon the stars.


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