(Note: The theoretical contents of this chapter are attributable to Arne Næss. His terminology and method of demonstration is virtually unaltered by me. This highly-original exercise has been proven to have wide and fruitful applications in almost all forms of discussion and public debate).
Firstly some terms
need to be introduced and defined as follows:-
"Verbal agreement" occurs when two or more persons agree on an expression.
"Verbal disagreement" occurs when two or more persons disagree on an expression.
"Real agreement" occurs when two or more persons agree on an assertion.
"Real disagreement" occurs when two or more persons disagree on an assertion.
Real agreement, then, can occur when at least two persons interpret an expression in such a way that there is no difference between the assertions so understood. Thus, they also agree on the assertion they find the expression to make.
If, however, they interpret the expression in different ways, then there is no ground for holding that they are in real agreement (or disagreement) about it. They are only in verbal agreement (or disagreement).
This verbal agreement may also be pseudo-agreement, if it turns out that they actually interpret the expression differently with the result that they disagree on the assertion. Likewise, verbal disagreement can prove to be pseudo-disagreement, if events prove that they are in real agreement after making each their interpretations clear.
Let two persons
be referred to as A and B. In short: Pseudo-agreement occurs when:-
A and B agree on an expression (E0) (i.e. are in verbal agreement) and
further discussion shows that A interprets EO as E1 while B interprets
it differently (as E2) so that A and B are in real disagreement about
at least one of the interpretations (E1 and E2), provided that both
give clear expression to their disagreement on the interpretation concerned.
Eg) i) A - The natural sciences are free of value.
ii) B - Yes. Natural scientific knowledge is free from individual prejudices.
iii) A - But what I meant to say was that natural scientific knowledge has no effect upon social and political controversies.
iv) B - I cannot agree with you.
In the above discussion,
A and B interpret the first expression differently as follows;-
EO -The natural sciences are free of value.
El -natural scientific knowledge is free from individual prejudices.
E2 -Natural scientific knowledge has no effect upon social and political controversies.
At i) there is verbal agreement between A and B on the expression EO.
At ii) we see B's interpretation of EO as E1.
At iii) we see that A meant EO in the sense expressed by E2.
At iv) we see that B is in real disagreement with A when E2 is taken as the relevant interpretation. Hence there was pseudo-agreement at ii).
occurs when:- A and B disagree on an imprecise expression (EO) (verbal
disagreement) and further discussion shows that A interprets EO as E1
while B interprets EO differently as E2, so that A and B are in real
agreement about at least one of the interpretations of EO - provided
that both give clear expression of their agreement on the expression
Eg) i) A: There is equality before the law in this country.
ii) B: No there is not. The higher a person's social and economic status, the more lenient the punishments are given by the courts.
iii) A: That may be so, but I meant only that the letter of this country's law does not privilege any particular individuals or groups.
iv) B: That is correct, but in practice the courts discriminate, Consider the following interpretations:-
is equality before the law in this country.
E1: A convicted person's social-economic status has no effect upon the punishments given by the law courts.
E2:A convicted person's social-economic status has no effect upon the punishments set by this country's law.
It is evident from ii) that B interpreted EO in the direction of E1. A, however, intended EO in the sense expressed by E2, which seems evident from looking at iii). At iv) we note that B is in real agreement with A on the interpretation expressed by E2. At i) and ii), however, we saw that there was initial verbal disagreement. Therefore the above discussion involved A and B in pseudo-disagreement.
In conclusion a comment on the possibility of establishing whether or not real agreement (or disagreement) is present. Since this depends upon interpretations of an expression it is in principle impossible to prove with certainty that two persons understand exactly the same assertion by it, even after the removal of misunderstandings as in the above examples. This is because further yet more precise interpretations of the expression agreed on cannot be excluded. Such might give rise to new differences or agreements of viewpoint. The problems of validating interpretations and agreements in practice are discussed later.
EXERCISES (PSEUDO-AGREEMENT AND -DISAGREEMENT)
whether pseudo-disagreement occurs in the following discussion. Give
grounds for you decision.
Andy: Men and women are equal
Flo: No. Women have less chance of asserting themselves in society.
Andy: I meant that they have the same legal rights.
Flo: Yes. And so they should too!
2) Consider the following exchange of views:-
A: The advance of micro-computer technology will result in less employment. B: Yes. It can result in shorter working hours for all. A. But it will also result in fewer jobs than will be needed
B: I don't necessarily agree, for that depends entirely upon how it is introduced into economic life.
a) State clearly
A's and B"'s interpretations of the term 'less employment' in A's
first expression. b) Evaluate whether these interpretations are more
precise than the term 'less employment', giving grounds.
c) Does pseudo-agreement occur in the above discussion? Give grounds.