An international conference offers a forum for scholarly discussions on practical approaches to handling a world full of disagreements

Today, on 11th of March, an international scholarly conference begins at the University of Tartu, focusing on the philosophical analysis of disagreements. The conference also constitutes discussions with an international community of scholars of the results of a funded investigation led by Margit Sutrop, Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Tartu.

Even though disagreements have always been with us, and they have been the subject of ongoing debates in the history of philosophy and theology, research philosophical aspects of disagreements is quite recent. "People argue over many things. Whether or not euthanasia should be permitted or whether or not we should eat animal products? Are we willing to allow a cellulose factory or a windmill park in our backyard?“ explains Margit Sutrop, Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Tartu, referring to the wide spectrum of issues encompassed by the topic of disagreements.

She adds that unlike traditional societies, the assent of today`s pluralistic societies can no longer be a foregone conclusion. "The consequences of moral, political and religious disagreements can be very serious – conflicts may cross national boundaries and even lead to war. Therefore, understanding the nature of disagreements and working out strategies to solve them are very important," Sutrop states, reflecting on the main topic of the conference.

In the last decade there have been many discussions on disagreements in logic, science, epistemology, and meta-ethics; also, debates have been pursued in moral and political philosophy regarding ways to solve such conflicts, or what to do if they prove unsolvable. However, up till now few connections have been made between theoretical and practical questions concerning disagreements. The institutional research grant titled "Philosophical analysis of disagreements" led by Prof. Margit Sutrop has successfully made connections between these two aspects.

Toomas Lott, researcher in the history of philosophy and one of the co-organisers of the conference states that in the last decade, there have been many discussions in the field of epistemology about the extent to which people change their positions once they become aware of disagreements. "What should one do if, for example, people with the same level of expertise as I do disagree with me? Should I be less sure of my own convictions? What should I do if experts in some area disagree among themselves – whom should I trust?" Lott highlights these and other questions often posed by philosophers.

Conference speakers include Daniel Cohnitz (Germany), Gurpreet Rattan (Canada), Folke Tersman and Olle Risberg (Sweden) and Margit Sutrop (Estonia). The opening plenary speech will be given by Daniel Cohnitz, who has been one of the initiators of the grant proposal, “Philosophical analysis of disagreements”, one of the participants in the project, formerly Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Tartu. He currently holds a professorship at the University of Utrecht. In his presentation, Cohnitz criticises the position that has recently become popular among philosophers, namely that conspiracy theorists (as well as other kinds of theorists) have been deemed to have a positive influence on democratic society, ostensibly because their skepticism has helped expose actual conspiracies in state institutions.

On Thursday night conference guests have the opportunity to experiment with solutions to everyday disagreements by playing the board game "Estonians’ 100 Choices", developed by the Centre for Ethics of the University of Tartu. This is also an opportunity for the Centre for Ethics to find out whether this discussion tool directed at Estonian society is useful for a more general testing of philosophical theories. And, to what extent decisions made with a view to our society are similar to those offered by people in other societies and whether or not they propose different justifications.

The conference "Disagreements: From Theory to Practice" is organized by the Department of Philosophy of the University of Tartu in cooperation with the Centre for Ethics of the University of Tartu. Scholars from 14 different countries will participate.

Please see the conference schedule and additional information at the conference home page.

Additional information:
Toomas Lott, member of the organising committee, toomas.lott [ät],+372 5606 1946

This conference concludes the institutional research project "Philosophical analysis of disagreements" (IUT20-5), funded by the Ministry of Education and Research and the Humanities Faculty of the University of Tartu (Basic Funding for National Sciences). The conference is also related to the Centre for Excellence in Estonian Studies (European Fund for Regional Development).