ENGINEERING NEWS

Exploring the Philosophy of Disagreements

Professor Sandy Goldberg gave the talk, “What Can We Learn from Disagreement?” as part of the Whole-Brain Leadership for PhD Students Seminar Series on February 25

Sandy Goldberg, professor of philosophy, discussed why understanding disagreement is necessary for people interested in the acquisition of knowledge in any domain.

Sandy Goldberg, professor of philosophy in the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, challenged PhD students to consider, “What Can We Learn from Disagreement?” as part of the Whole-Brain Leadership for PhD Students Seminar Series at Northwestern Engineering.

The talk on February 25 in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center revolved around the Enlightenment idea that disagreement should be impossible under ideal conditions of inquiry, now considered an overly simplistic idea by recent philosophers. Goldberg noted that understanding disagreement is necessary for people interested in the acquisition of knowledge in any domain.

“Science did begin in its infancy in the philosophy departments,” he said. “In 16th, 17th, and 18th century Europe, we see the rise of more democratic forms of governance. We also see the rise of market capitalism, and you see the rise and emerging domination of science as the most trusted form of human inquiry.”

Goldberg explained that understanding disagreements can help students become more sophisticated in their interpretations and move beyond assuming that one person automatically must be wrong, which modern philosophers explain as the concept of uniqueness.

“If uniqueness is true, the policy of agree to disagree can never be rational,” he said. “It can’t render two parties rational when they disagree on the assumption they’re sharing all their evidence. If you share all your evidence and you disagree, then at least one of you must be wrong.”

When evaluating arguments with supporting evidence, Goldberg also discussed how scientists can utilize higher-order evidence, which relates to the character and existence of evidence.

“In most scientific work, first-order evidence is standardly the only evidence that matters, but sometimes, even in the sciences, higher-order evidence matters,” he said. “Even in the sciences, higher-order evidence can be published. Sometimes in the sciences, higher-order evidence is extremely significant. Think of review articles and metanalyses.”

Goldberg’s talk is part of the PhD Seminar Series which invites scholars from outside the McCormick School of Engineering to introduce students to various disciplines, including philosophy, art, theatre, economics, and law.

“The whole point of the seminars is to broaden your horizons,” Dean Julio M. Ottino said.

The series will resume in spring quarter with three lectures.

Ken Alder, professor of history and Milton H. Wilson Professor in the Humanities in Weinberg, will speak next on Wednesday, April 17 at noon.