As a public speaker, I havebeen exposed to several debates throughout my life. I have learned that everydebate has to involve both consensus and disagreement in order to reach aconclusion that is widely accepted and resistant to criticism. The knowledgeproduced as a result of both these elements is therefore said to be ‘robust’, whichcan be defined as ‘full’ or ‘strong’ knowledge. The above prescribed title suggeststhat robust knowledge cannot be obtained without consensus or disagreement asthey serve as driving forces for fundamental changes in underlying assumptions.It further expresses that without disagreements, the questioning of theorieswill not take place, leading to stagnant knowledge, and that consensus, whichcan be defined as an agreement within a discipline, leads to an acceptance ofknowledge. This statement therefore emphasizes on the importance of both consensusand disagreement in the production of robust knowledge.
However, the ideals ofthis claim can manifest itself in different ways upon different AOKs likeHistory and Natural Sciences.In History, historians utilizeprimary and secondary sources, along with imagination, reason,and emotion to arrive at narratives, which are their own perspectives ofhistorical events. An opportunity for other historians to reject or verifythese narratives arises when this personal knowledge becomes shared knowledge,therefore leading to disagreement or consensus. When considering several historicalnarratives, are disagreement and consensus amongst them necessary? Whenindividual narratives are opened up to scrutiny, they can either be rectified byfilling up gaps in the theories using other narratives (disagreement), or canresolve disagreement and prove other narratives wrong (consensus).
Both of thesescenarios lead to the production of strong, robust knowledge. Therefore, it canbe claimed that it is crucial to involve both disagreement and consensus inHistory through conflicting accounts in order to reach an accurate conclusionthat is as close to actuality as possible. Diverging perspectives on oneparticular historical event enables historians to broaden their horizons anduse reason in order to establish links between these perspectives,therefore arriving at a consensus, and producing robust knowledge.
For example,it was initially inferred from several first hand accounts that the SovietUnion planned to invade Israel only after Israel refused to cease fightingduring the Six-Day War.1However, other conflicting sources such as telegrams, interviews, and otherarchived accounts that disagreed with the initial accounts, led historiansIsabella Ginor and Gideon Remez2to establish a consensus with other historians and come to the conclusion thatit was the Soviet Union that instigated the Six-Day War, and that they had anelaborate plan to destroy Israel’s nuclear capability.3The truth of the events that took place decades ago was finally uncovered dueto the involvement of both disagreement and consensus. Without analysing thesedeviating accounts and evidences, it would have been impossible for thehistorians to arrive at an understanding of the Six-Day War.However, in some other cases,individual narratives can be widely accepted without any form of disagreement,and a consensus can be immediately reached, thus producing robust knowledge. Therefore,it can also be argued that in circumstances when historical events areconclusive and unambiguous, they do not require disagreement, although consensusis necessary.
The plausibility of several historical events has beendetermined based on evidences that do not oppose or contradict one another.Similar accounts are therefore substantial, and there is no need fordisagreement. For example, Historical accounts from the fourteenth century,such as the claims of contemporary chroniclers, and local surveys,4were taken as evidence for the existence of the Black Death, that claimed thelives of about 75 million people.5Although more research was carried out on this phenomenal historical event, itsplausibility was never questioned due to the fact that solid evidence, whichincluded the bacteria that caused the plague, confirmed existing knowledge. Inthis case, historians have relied upon the coherence theory of truth inorder to arrive at a consensus. Again, reason and imagination haveplayed major roles hin determining the existence of this historical event, as evidencesthat suggested the same ideals were used. This has helped historians establisha consensus that suggests that the Black Death was a disease that alteredHistory.In the Natural Sciences,scientists rely upon direct observation to come up with a hypothesis andperform an experiment, a process called the scientific method.
When thispersonal knowledge becomes shared knowledge, other scientists often replicatethese experiments and rely on the correspondence theory to verify theresults. Are disagreement and consensus in the scientific method imperativefor scientific advancement? Through the scientific method, sense perceptionis used to observe and test hypotheses about observed phenomena. The resultsobtained by different scientists can lead to disagreements about scientfictheories, which can either be proven wrong or prove another thoery wrong. Notunlike History, both these scenarios lead to a strengthening of knowledge,therefore producing robust knowledge.
It can therefore be claimed that both disagreementand consensus are necessary in order to induce scientific advancement. Withoutdisagreement, scientific theories cannot be imrovised upon, and will have toremain stagnant, thus hindering the production of robust knowledge. For example,the Phlogiston theory was a theory proposed by Becher in 1669. It is a formertheory of combustion which hypothesized that any substance that was burnt wouldgive out a substance called ‘terra pinguis’. It was a hypotheticaltheory that was not supported by further evidence or theories. However, aconsensus was immediately reached, and it was widely accepted throughout theworld, even leading to further knowledge based on the Phlogiston theory, when Stahlrenamed the substance.
Confirmation bias played an important role inthis scientific theory, as other scientists reached a consensus without anysort of disagreement as it aligned with their beliefs. However, several piecesof evidence, such as experiments conducted by Lavoisier, disproved this theorywhen he determined that there was no gain in mass, and therefore no release of’phlogiston’. He involved disagreement, which led to him replacing thepreceding theory with a new theory. Lavoisier conducted his experiments withthe help of several varying sources, and consulted the works of scientists suchas Joseph Priestly, to arrive at a conclusion6,which also suggests a consensus between these two scientists. Intuitionis an important aspect of Lavoisier’s findings as his theory was based on theintuitive notions that ‘heat molecules flow’, and therefore was widelyaccepted.7If Lavoisier hadn’t superseded this hypothetical theory with the aid ofconflicting evidence, the world would have still depended on this theory, andthis would have further resulted in several inaccurate theories based on thePhlogiston theory. Both disagreement and consensus are therefore vital for theproduction of robust scientific knowledge.
However, there also severalscientific theories that didn’t undergo improvisations, and therefore didn’t haveto involve disagreement. Therefore, it can also be argued that it is notvital for disagreements to be involved for any scientific theory to be widelyaccepted, although consensus is definitely required. Scientists are usuallyaware of the limitations within the theories that they propose, and thereforedo not give the opportunity for disagreement to arise. Heisenberg’s UncertaintyPrinciple is something that I have learnt as a part of my IB Chemistry HLcourse. This theory is an excellent example of a scientific theory that didn’tinvolve disagreement much as it did consensus. Heisenberg postulated that it isimpossible to simultaneoulsy know, with a high level of precision, twoproperies of an electron, for instance, its position or momentum.
Niels Bohrfurther explained this theory by observations that indicated an electron’swave-particle duality.8The consensus reached between these scientists have led to the development of atheory that is widely accepted even a century later, as evidenced by melearning the same theory as a student in the 21st Century. Again, thedevelopment of these theories are based on intuition. The intuitionof these scientists have led them to believe that their observations willconfirm preceding theories, rather than disagree with them. In the case of both Historyand Natural Sciences, both disagreement and consensus play a vital role in theproduction of robust knowledge. Although there were a few instances wheredisagreement wasn’t as crucial as consensus, a majority of scientific theoriesand historical narratives are a result of both these fundamental elements. However, robust knowledge canbe acquired in History even without considering disagreement as they are eventsthat are resolute, and in some cases, do require only a small number of similaraccounts or perspectives.
Natural Sciences, on the other hand, constitute of theoriesthat are subjective to changes. According to Karl Popper’s theory of falsification,a scientific theory isn’t really a scientific theory unless it can befalsified.9It is therefore crucial to look at several conflicting pieces of evidence beforearriving at a consensus.
To sum up, it is clearlyevident that it is a far more superior choice to first consider disagreementbefore reaching a consensus, in the case of both AOKs. The implications of thisconclusion are particularly cogent in times of ‘alternative facts’10.It can be implied that there is a need to maintain academic researchfunding regardless of the results of research, and to support the independenceof academic research bodies. Margaret Heffernan once said:”Openinformation is fantastic, open networks are essential. But the truth won’t setus free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moralcourage to use it.” 11Weshould therefore dare to disagree for change, as change is what drives theworld to move forward.(WordCount: 1599 words) 1 V, Marc.
“10 Controversial Alternative Views Of HistoricalEvents.” Listverse, 11 Mar. 2014, listverse.
com/2014/03/11/10-controversial-alternative-views-of-historical-events/.Date Accessed: 11th November 20172 Ginor, Isabella, and Gideon Remez. Foxbats Over Dimona: TheSoviets’ Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War. Yale University Press, 2008.Date Accessed: 11th November 20173 V, Marc. “10 Mind-Blowing Wars That Nearly Happened.” Listverse,6 Feb.
2014,listverse.com/2014/02/06/10-mind-blowing-wars-that-nearly-happened/. DateAccessed: 11th November 20174 “The Black Death: the historians’ view.” History Extra,BBC History Magazine, 8 Jan. 2016,www.historyextra.com/article/premium/black-death-historians-view.
DateAccessed: 11th November 20175 “History of Black Death.” AllAboutHistory.org,www.allabouthistory.org/history-of-black-death.htm.
Date Accessed: 11thNovember 20176 “Phlogiston theory.” Phlogiston theory – Oxford Reference,16 June 2017,www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100323514. DateAccessed: 11th November 20177 Haskell, Robert E.
Transfer of Learning: Cognition,Instruction, and Reasoning. Academic Press, 2001. Date Accessed: 11thNovember 20178 Silverman, Jacob. “10 Scientific Laws and Theories You ReallyShould Know.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 14 Mar. 2016,science.
Date Accessed: 16th January 20189 Theoryofknowledge.net,www.theoryofknowledge.net/about/the-tok-course/tok-glossary/. Date Accessed:22nd January 201810 “Alternative facts.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,22 Jan. 2018, en.
wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_facts. Date Accessed: 22ndJanuary 201811 Heffernan, Margaret. “Dare to disagree.” MargaretHeffernan: Dare to disagree | TED Talk,www.ted.
com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree/transcript. DateAccessed: 11th November 2017