Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Agree to disagree? Why not?

Pedro Jesus Perez Zafrilla.
(University of Valencia)

In a previous post on this blog, David Aldridge questions the social convention of ending arguments by “agreeing to disagree.”, arguing that doing so “ends the dialogue at precisely the point where what is really at issue is beginning to emerge” . He also questions the motivations of those who seek to end an argument by offering to “agree to disagree” However, I think agreeing to disagree is a good idea and I will try to argue why.

Debating could be characterized by three features: a context of disagreement, open-minded participants, and an expectation that one can rationally convince his/her interlocutor. Then, people who debate do so because they believe that agreement is possible. The achievement of agreement is the aim of  dialogue.

Nevertheless, the desire to reach agreement shouldn’t lead us to forget that debate is fruitful only under certain conditions. Some of them include limitations of time and the number of participants, because the decision must be made, or agreement reached, within a reasonable span of time. But there are also other limitations in the debating process. We might begin with the expectation that one can rationally convince one’s interlocutor about the rightness of one’s position but we reach difficulties when incommensurable views are confronted. Some examples are found in debates on taxes, euthanasia or models of education. Here what is morally significant for some persons is not so for others. So, concepts such as “a dignified life” or “quality of education” have different meanings for each side of the debate.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.