Robust Knowledge Requires Both Consensus And Disagreement
When presented with new information the natural reaction individuals often respond with is skepticism. Though the source of this skepticism is unclear, most attribute it to natural evolution or conditioning by academic institutions. Pinpointing this behavior to one specific origin is impossible, various factors motivate people to question new information, whether it be the level of understanding of the individual, their perception of the available facts, and the level of evidence available to support the information people are skeptical of new information. This situation is, in the end, acceptable since it allows one to explore the knowledge available more critically.
How knowledge is defined varies across cultures and contexts but what it boils down to is information acquired through experiences that enables individuals to form understandings. A critical exploration of information enables one to test or even validate unclear aspects in certain knowledge. The result is the development of robust knowledge, which can be defined as knowledge that can survive criticism and is effective in solving some of the arising issues. The process of critical exploration involves agreements and disagreements. These facts lead to the knowledge question, how can consensus and disagreement affect the quality of knowledge? This essay will draw examples from history and human science as two areas of knowledge and emotion and reason as ways of knowing relevant to the two respective areas of knowledge and the topic of this essay.
Agreements and disagreements play a significant role in the development of the quality of knowledge in history. Even when presented with the same piece of evidence there may still be perspectives and ideas that can be explored, this ambiguity of perspectives results in disagreements. When there are disagreements among historians, new ideas come to life improving upon the topic being discussed. A valid example to support this claim is the method used to record or write history known as historiography. Norman Gash, a British historian, authored a comprehensive empirical research, written in a more traditional style of historiography. Despite the fact that Norman Gash is a modern historian, he tends to defy the conventions of modern historiography as he did with his empirical research. Other historians have also shown disagreements in the way modern history is written. To what extent have these disagreements resulted in improved knowledge? The historians who use the traditional historical writing approaches think that the modern history writers do not accord to the evidence they use. On the other hand, modern historians think that traditional historians pay too much attention to the narrative of the past events. However, this nature of disagreements has resulted in a group of historians who try to merge the traits from the two research extremes to develop a more dynamic writing approach. Driven by a varying degree of enthusiasm, this class of historians has tried to incorporate some new perspectives into their work. A good example is the methods used by Keith Jenkins. His approach takes into account both methods of historiography which results in the development of knowledge that is easier to validate and hence can stand any form of criticism. This example shows that continued disagreements concerning the best method that historians should use to write have resulted in the creation of a better writing approach. Most of the twenty-first century historians have begun to conform to the new approach of writing history. Hence, both consensus and disagreements are important in the development of quality knowledge.
On the other hand, disagreements and agreements cannot result in the development of effective knowledge. When disagreements arise between historians, they serve to weaken the quality of knowledge available to readers. Instead of making the current knowledge robust, they serve to make it more useless through the development of controversies. A valid example to support this claim is the works of Herodotus and Thucydides. The two historians developed their work on the origins and course of war. Herodotus sought to explain the nature and factors that caused the great Greek-Persian war. His interests were vast as he accounted for the customs and beliefs of the Greeks and Barbarians and their histories and further gives an account of the floods of the Nile and the border of the world that was known during the time of war. Thucydides, on the other hand, accounted for the wars between Athens and Sparta in a more disciplined, methodical and constrained approach. This historian used better approaches to cover fewer details more extensively. Regarding evidence, the two historians were at great odds. For example, Herodotus did not extend his evidence beyond any living memory and hence fails to establish clear conclusions. Thucydides, on the other hand, uses recorded information and other facts to support his ideas. This nature of disagreements in the ways of developing evidence of historical events leads to confusion about the best method that a scholar should use. The result is confusion as opposed to the strengthening of historical research approaches.