People are frequently at odds over issues that equally concern them. Some of these disagreements can be resolved more easily than others. This project is concerned with disagreements that are especially difficult to settle. We call these »deep disagreements«. We consider deep disagreements those that can neither be resolved by compelling arguments nor by further information and that are not based on easily discernible misunderstandings. To be considered deep, disagreements must be of considerable importance and also in need of decision-making or regulation. Disagreements of this kind lie at the heart of many contemporary agonistic political, social, ideological and religious conflicts.

Connecting Debates of Various Disciplines

This project is driven by law academics and philosophers, but it also includes the expertise of relevant adjacent disciplines such as psychology. It integrates a number of theoretical debates that, so far, have been neither systematically applied to the problem of deep disagreements nor tested in socially relevant fields of application. In the recent philosophical debate about »peer disagreement«, the question has been posed how epistemic peers, i.e., persons with the same level of information and intellectual capacities, should reasonably react to disagreements. In legal theory, the debate about the »right answer thesis« centres around the question whether legal disputes always have a single right answer. If we do not presuppose that there can be a right answer, then Dworkin’s famous »semantic sting« seems to force us to the implausible conclusion that our deep legal disagreements are merely based on linguistic misunderstandings and that it cannot be explained what we argue about in law. This debate in legal theory stands in noticeable, but up to now disregarded, parallel to the current philosophical debate about the possibility of »faultless disagreements«.

Legal Disagreement as a Point of Reference

Deep disagreements pose not only theoretical but also significant practical challenges. Often decisions have to be made even in cases in which the resources for a rational consensus seem to have been exhausted. In the field of law, this problem can be studied with particular advantage. First, law is a social cross-sectoral phenomenon: all socially relevant cases of deep disagreements accumulate in the field of law. Second, the legal system is the most advanced and socially most powerful institution for handling disagreements. Since, in law, disagreements must come to decisive conclusions, and since the arguments and positions exchanged are meticulously documented in legal proceedings, the law provides a highly relevant body of material for this research project.

Fields of Application

This project analyses the ways in which we deal with deep disagreements in several fields of application such as politics, religion and assessment of research performance. Disagreements in these areas have an extremely complex structure, in which different sources of disagreement intersect and in which it is difficult to trace the real source of dissent. The project aims at a typology of sorts, reasons and causes of deep disagreements. It will analyse the options of dealing with deep disagreements that result from the variable sources of dissent in the aforementioned fields of application.

Principal Investigators

Prof. Dr. Geert Keil (Philosophy, Humboldt University of Berlin)
Prof. Dr. Ralf Poscher (Law, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg)

Cooperation partner

Prof. Dr. Bernd Simon (Psychology, University of Kiel)

  • In cooperation with Kiel University