PHIL41380 Dealing with Disagreement

Academic Year 2016/2017

In today’s complex societies many of our decisions depend on expert advice and opinion, but experts can and do disagree, sometimes vehemently, and not all their disagreements seem open to resolution. An immediate question facing all of us, and not just those in public positions of decision making, in particular when it comes to decisions concerning some of the greatest challenges facing humanity, such as environmental policy, is how to react to seemingly “faultless disagreement” among experts, or disagreements where neither side seems to be making any obvious errors, and its sorry corollary, the misrepresentation and misunderstanding of this in the media and civic society.In this MA module we investigate the ill understood, but socially and politically significant phenomenon of peer disagreement. The ultimate goal of the course is to gain a better understanding of the role and consequences of disagreement among scientific experts and its implications for policy decisions by governmental agencies and the formation of public opinion. More specifically, the module addresses the following questions: a)What are the best ways to understand and deal with peer disagreement among scientific experts who advise policy makers on politically and economically sensitive areas such as climate change? b)What are the optimal strategies for choosing and trusting one set of expert opinion over a dissenting one? c)What is the impact of disagreement among scientific experts on policy decisions as well as on the formation of public opinion? The study also utilises the methodologies of Experimental Philosophy in order to collect and analyse empirical data on the reactions of the general public to disagreement among experts in different arenas.
The module is running in conjunction with an interdisciplinary research project funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons Award Scheme titled “When Experts Disagree: A comparative study of peer disagreement in the natural sciences and its effect on policy decisions”.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

The course has both a work placement and an academic component. As part of their work experience, students taking this module will participate in the organisation of international workshops and a conference and will learn about academic event organisation, writing funding applications, working with a group of interdisciplinary researchers, contribuitng to blogs and other social media associated with a research project. Students will also become familiar with the methodologies of Experimental Philosophy, involving the collection and analysis of empirical data on the reactions of the general public to disagreement among experts in different arenas. For the academic component, students will be requried to attend seminars on specific philosophical texts relatd to questions of expertise and peer disagreement. The seminars will be delivered by Professor Baghramian and the members of her research team as well as international visiting academics affiliated with the project. The module will introduce students to one of the most topical issues of recent epistemology.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Seminar (or Webinar)


Placement/Work Experience




Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Description % of Final Grade Timing
Essay: 3 short essays in blog form


Coursework (End of Trimester)
Fieldwork: Academic Event Organisation


Throughout the Trimester
Attendance: Attendance at workshops and seminars


Varies over the Trimester


This module is not passable by compensation

Resit Opportunities

In-semester assessment


If you fail this module you may repeat, resit or substitute where permissible