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Epistemology / Psychology

Resolving Disagreement: Reason or Force?

Let’ s suppose you have a disagreement with someone. Let’ s further suppose that you have to resolve that disagreement. Perhaps it is about how you will spend your time, where you will go for vacation or what classes you will take at school. But no matter what it is, you cannot do both things and you and your opponent do not agree about what to do. There are only two ways to resolve the dilemma. Reasonable people try reasoned arguments first and use force as a last resort. All other options are unwise and irrational.

There are two ways to resolve such a disagreement. One way is by using force and the other way is by using reason. Reason appeals to someone’ s knowledge and mental abilities. Force simply applies to something that is not a mental ability. Threats, physical force, manipulation and emotional blackmail are all different forms of force. Since we must either appeal to someone’ s mind as a mind or otherwise, there is no third option.

We ought to prefer the use of reason to that of force. There are several reasons for that preference. First, human beings are rational creatures. By appealing to their minds, you are treating them as rational creatures. Treating something like the kind of thing it is, is the right way to treat something. Second, reason leads all people to the same place. So if reason points to a particular action, then harmony can be established. Otherwise, war and fighting breaks out. Third, reason lets a group of many people work towards the same goal. Force may try to do that, but it is far less effective. Fourth, preferring the use of force will inevitably cause harm. Reason does not necessarily cause harm.

Our preference of reason to force means that we should only use force after we have tried reason and failed and there is no time to try reason further without force. Our preference for reason rather than force means that we should try reason at least once regardless of time problems. All of the reasons for preferring reason over force have already been mentioned. The second point is that force can only be used when there is no more time to reason. When action must occur immediately, then force must be used.

Some examples would help. If we disagree over God’ s existence, then although this belief has many practical implications, there is plenty of time left to reason about it. Force is forbidden. If we disagree on whether or not the house is burning around us, then that is a much different situation. We first try to wake up the sleeping individual, then carry them out of the house. If we are in a hostage situation with a criminal, we first tell them to release the hostages. Only after they refuse and reason is not working do we shoot them. Finally, if a nation attacks us, we first attempt diplomacy, then we attack them (to protect our own citizens).

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