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Debra Satz
Richard Morgenstein

Dean's Message

Winter 2024 H&S Newsletter for Faculty and Staff

March 2024

In Joy Harjo’s poem “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies,” she begins by asking “And whom do I call my enemy?” By the end of this short poem, foe becomes potential friend: “The door to the mind should only open from the heart. / An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.”

In the United States and around the world, people deeply disagree about many things. Such disagreement is likely to remain a feature of democratic societies: In the absence of state-enforced conformity, individuals will conflict with others about fundamental values. How should we cope with these ongoing disagreements? How can we harness such disagreement in a productive direction, generating knowledge and mutual understanding? One answer, developed by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson in their book Democracy and Disagreement, is that deliberation—reasoning together on terms of mutual respect—can play a helpful role. Through deliberation we hear each other out, even when we think others, whose opinions we are criticizing, are wrong. We may learn important things through that process, and it’s necessary for us to find fair ways of living together, which such deliberation may facilitate. Of course, protest, civil disobedience, and even bargaining also have important roles to play in society.

The skills involved in disagreeing productively are hard. It’s easy to demonize or simply dismiss the opposing side instead of listening. And it’s true that some of those we disagree with may not be motivated by the pursuit of truth and may also be manipulating information. But a good defeasible premise is this: When someone disagrees with you, it is likely because the evidence we have is incomplete (there is a LOT we do not know!), or because the issue is open to multiple interpretations, or because there are perspectives and information that they have not yet considered, or because even when the evidence is shared, people can disagree about the value trade-offs they are willing to make when it comes to policy.

Universities have to be beacons for respectful disagreement, open-minded curiosity about the views of others, and the pursuit of knowledge. To magnify that light a bit, Paul Brest and I are co-teaching a course in spring quarter that will model respectful disagreement on contentious issues such as gun regulation, university admissions, the limits of freedom of speech, and the uses of AI: Phil 3: Democracy and Disagreement. I hope you will encourage your students to enroll in this one-unit class; videos of the sessions will also be available on the school’s website.

Thanks, as always, for the work you are doing through your research and teaching and enjoy the newsletter!

Debra Satz
Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences
Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society
Professor of Philosophy and, by courtesy, Political Science
Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education