It can be said that a major area of contention withinepistemology revolves around the nature of robust knowledge. One perspective ofthis debate is personified by the knowledge claim: “Robust knowledge requiresboth consensus and disagreement”. To effectively evaluate this claim, the termrobust knowledge must be defined. This work is premised on the notion thatrobust knowledge refers to both abstract and applied knowledge that is valuableand reliable, enabling further knowledge creation.
Accordingly, given itssubjective nature, it must be specified who determines whether knowledge is infact robust. This determination is contingent upon the person interpreting thebody of knowledge, as the perceived value and reliability of shared knowledgebetween the scholarly and non-expert worlds differ. That being said, theintention of this exploration is to answer the knowledge questions: “To whatextent does disagreement and consensus enhance the reliability of knowledgecreation within History?” and “How far does disagreement and consensus in theNatural Sciences contribute to the validity of knowledge creation?” Thisanalysis will show that robust knowledge necessitates the harmoniousco-existence of disagreement and consensus. This becomes evident when closely analysingthe interaction between conflict and universal acceptance with shared knowledgein History and the Natural Sciences, with regards to reason and language.Historical knowledge is reliant ondisagreements as a prerequisite to forming consensus and thereby improvingreliability. The manner of constructive debate, along with the type of knower,has a significant impact on the value and validity of historical knowledge.
Disagreements are predominantly found within historiography, the area fromwhich historians draw interpretations and attempt to describe past events (Jayapalan 4). For instance, asexplored in my extended essay in History, the papacy of Pius XI was immersedwith debate and controversy, which was somewhat remedied following the openingof the Vatican archives of his pontificate in 2006 (D’Emilio). Within thescholarly world, such debate has remarkable value for historians as they becomeexposed to diverse viewpoints to aid in reducing historical inaccuracies. Theadditional source material made available from the opening of the archives wasinvaluable, given its importance in the historical method.
This gives rise tothe possibility for historians to use their historical reasoning in an attemptto resolve disputes and expand shared knowledge within the field. The fact thatdisagreement and thus various viewpoints are at the centre of historicalknowledge, drastically improves its reliability since historians rely onHegel’s dialectic. This significant component of philosophy is a method ofargument and dispute resolution whereby the antithesis possesses great value inthe dialectic stages of development (McTaggart 237). Accordingly, in the scholarly world,constructive debate and the subsequent consensus increases the value andreliability ascribed to historical knowledge.
Such developments in the fieldform the foundation for future shared knowledge that would arise as a result ofa greater understanding of past events.However, when interpreting themeaning of sources, it is common for intractable conflicts to occur, therebyhindering the reliability and value of historical knowledge creation. Giventhat historical methodology is incredibly subjective, the subsequentdisagreements are typically overtly ideological in nature. The researchconducted whilst developing my internal assessment for History highlighted suchconflict. The diverging views from historical schools of thought regarding the causesof the Ukrainian famine of 1932 illustrated how, in certain cases, biasseverely hinders knowledge development in this field.
Historians may have thetendency to adhere to confirmation bias, whereby source material that merelyconfirms one’s belief is specifically chosen, whilst contradictory evidence isdismissed (Willingham 46). Evidently, bias affects the way inwhich historians interpret events. The key issues this presents, in terms ofshared knowledge, is that a flawed interpretation can be circulated as a fact,thereby solidifying a biased argument.
Another major issue faced by scholars isthe translation of historical sources. Language can be extremely ambiguous,where simple misinterpretations can change one’s outlook of an event. One direexample of a misinterpretation was witnessed in the Pacific war. Ten days priorto dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima the Japanese Premier Kantaro Suzuki’sresponse to President Truman’s ultimatum was misinterpreted. The Premier usedthe word ‘mokusatu’ in his response which means ‘no comment’ but wasmisinterpreted as ‘reject’ (Torikai 35).
Accordingly, it is clear how historians’ reliance on source material can beflawed. Furthermore, non-experts may lack the historical reasoning todifferentiate between a reliable and an unreliable source, thus resulting inthe development of erroneous personal historical knowledge. In theseaforementioned examples, the zone of exchange is minimal as personal knowledgedoes not contribute to expanding shared knowledge, since consensus is notreached. Although it may appear that intractable arguments pose an impedimentto creating reliable historical knowledge, their consequence indicatesotherwise.
Due to the difficulty of objectively assessing source material,numerous historical schools of thought are ultimately formed. Thus, intractabledebate can arguably be said to improve the reliability of historical knowledgeas it has forcibly led to the creation of diverse viewpoints. Accordingly, thestudy of history and its reliance on differing perspectives leads to anexpansion of the zone of exchange thereby refining historical knowledge and itsrobust nature.Moving on to the Natural Sciences,it can be said that the validity or reliability of shared scientific knowledge,in the scholarly world also increases with disagreements and consensus.
In thecase of the scientific method, knowledge is only valid and valuable when it canbe methodically tested and quantitative empirical data can be collected tosupport the theory. Accordingly, the importance of disagreements in increasingthe reliability of theoretical science becomes evident since it cannot beempirically tested. For instance, recent disagreements about the theory ofgravity negate the need for dark matter as the answer for the abnormal motionof stars in the galaxy (Galeon). Rather, the stringtheory expert Erik Verlinde contends that a more accurate explanation can be derivedif gravity is considered to be an emergent phenomenon instead of a fundamentalforce (Galeon). Utilising thetheory of emergent gravity, efforts can be made to reconcile the conflictsbetween Einstein’s theory of general relativity and quantum physics. Thisillustrates how disagreements can increase the reliability of theoreticalscientific knowledge.
Such an impact is significant as theoretical knowledge iscrucial for developing a greater understanding of applied scientific knowledge.In turn, this forms the foundation for future shared scientific knowledge.Accordingly, the value and reliability that scholars attribute to sharedscientific knowledge improves as a result of disagreements since they revealflaws with established knowledge and contribute to the progression of thefield.On the other hand, it can be arguedthat disagreements and consensus in relation to theoretical scientificknowledge are limited in their ability to contribute to improving reliabilityor value. Scientific language is a major cause of long-standing debates withinthis field.
For example, scholars have been debating the meaning of quantummechanics, ever since its inception. The division among experts in thisinstance stems from the various interpretations of the theory’s foundations,thus preventing consensus from being reached and impeding further progressionwithin the field (Ball). Moreover,scientists’ disagreements often arise from their use of inductive reasoning toexplain a phenomenon.
Accordingly, this process is inherently flawed as it canpotentially lead to faulty generalizations, since conclusions made are notcertain, but merely probable. Arguably, even after effectively reachingconsensus, the perceived value and reliability of scientific knowledge to anon-expert is limited. This is a consequence of the fact that they may lack thescientific background knowledge to comprehend and recognise the significance ofthe newly acquired scientific knowledge.
The complexity of scientific jargon,further restricts the layman’s ability to understand and appreciate this newknowledge. I became aware of the issues arising from scientific language duringmy internal assessment for Physics. I only began to appreciate thesignificance and value of specific heat capacity and its theoretical basisfollowing extensive research.
The fact that a thorough exploration was neededto understand this scientific concept highlighted the impediment non-expertsface when attempting to comprehend complex scientific lexis. Hence one’spersonal knowledge has substantial importance in determining the reliabilityand value of newly acquired scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, it must benoted that the process of disagreement within the Natural Sciences is stillfruitful. It is a vital tool to understand and develop scientific facts tobetter explain the laws of nature. More importantly, disagreements challengethe nature of established scientific knowledge, thereby further motivatingexperts to seek out the truth and create robust knowledge.
To conclude, the existence ofdisagreements prior to establishing consensus, significantly impacts thereliability of knowledge creation. The implications of this finding are noteworthy.Arguably, in the scholarly worlds of History and the Natural Sciences, thepresence of diverse viewpoints greatly increases the reliability and validityof shared knowledge, as debates generate immense value to historians andscientists in their pursuit of robust knowledge. However, in the non-expertworlds of History and the Natural Sciences, the knower may lack the personalknowledge to appreciate the value of disagreements as a prior necessity toforming consensus, for robust knowledge creation.
Consequently, for knowledgeto possess value from the perspective of non-experts, it must form the foundationfor future shared knowledge whilst beingcomprehensible for the layman. However, this is not to say that disagreementand consensus are the only way of creating robust knowledge, rather, itincreases the probability of its creation.