Webs of Faith as a Source of Reasonable Disagreement
Critical Review, Forthcoming
30 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2011 Last revised: 2 Sep 2014
Date Written: January 1, 2011
Contemporary political theorists and philosophers of epistemology and religion have often drawn attention to the problem of reasonable disagreement. The idea that deliberators may reasonably persist in a disagreement even under ideal deliberative conditions and even over the long term poses a challenge to the common assumption that rationality should lead to consensus. This essay proposes a previously unrecognized source of reasonable disagreement, based on the notion that an individual's beliefs are rationally related to one another in a fabric of sentences or web of beliefs. The essay argues that an individual's beliefs may not form a single, seamless web, but that there may exist smaller, largely self-contained webs with few or no rational relations to the larger web. If such "webs of faith" exist, they could pose a significant obstacle to the goals of liberal democratic theorists. In particular, they might render futile the search for common ground as a starting point for deliberative agreement under certain circumstances. The essay concludes by proposing an alternative form of deliberation.
Keywords: Reasonable Disagreement, Rationally Motivated Consensus, Deliberative Democracy, Web of Belief, Web of Faith, Dissensus, Common Ground, Rawls, Quine, Habermas, Guttmann, Religious Belief, Ideological Belief, Philosophical Belief, Conspiracy Theories
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