The scenario presented to us in the above claim describes howvarying opinions on a particular subject are needed to gain ‘robust’ knowledge.To successfully discuss this claim, we must first ask ourselves whatconstitutes ‘robust’ knowledge. The word ‘robust’ is defined as something thatis, “able to withstand or overcome intellectual challenges or adversity”.
Therefore, for knowledge to be classified as robust, it must be able to handleany criticism or dispute towards its validity so that it can be applied to oureveryday dealings1. However, does the gain of robust knowledge relyon both debate and consensus in all areas of knowledge? On one hand, the moreempirical and rational areas of knowledge, such as the Natural Sciences, reliesheavily on the use of peer review and criticism of knowledge claims so as toensure that the knowledge gained from that research is valid. However, researchconducted in the various disciplines included in the Natural Science becomes a’fact’ only after scientists have arrived at some kind of agreement regardingits validity. In this case, agreement and disagreement are both necessary toensure the claims made by those who conducted the research are justifiable andreputable. At the same time, we must also look at the areas of knowledgepresent on the other side of the spectrum in which interpretation andimagination reign over how knowledge is gained. In the Arts, consensus and disagreementare two terms that are nearly unheard of when it comes to gaining knowledge aspeople base their analyses of art on their own experiences, interpretation, and imagination. These ways of gainingknowledge are completely unique to each person so consensus and disagreementregarding an art form are ultimately unnecessaryas no interpretation is a classified as a wrong one. In addition, because nointerpretation of art can be regarded as invalid, it is difficult to name anyknowledge gained from art as ‘robust’ as the knowledge gained is somewhatimpervious to criticism.
Therefore, robust knowledge relies on consensus anddisagreement, but only in certain areas of knowledge. By analyzing howreputable knowledge is pursued in the Natural Sciences and the Arts, and exploringthe role of debate throughout this essay, we will gain a better understandingof what really is required in the gain of ‘robust’ knowledge and when consensusand disagreement are in fact both needed to gain knowledge. When analyzing the how knowledge is gained in the Natural Sciences,there are quite a few questions regarding knowledge that we must ask ourselves.Firstly, how do both consensus anddisagreement contribute to the gain of robust knowledge? Most data andknowledge found in the Natural Sciences is based on theories. Before theories become officially legitimate, data,observations, and investigations must be repeated so that the scientificcommunity knows that the experiment yields consistent and reproducible results.
Not only does conflicting claims regarding the experiment result in judgment and criticism (leading to improvementsin the experiment or the scientific community as a whole) but it also leads toa deeper recognition of the presented issue. For a theory to be built and gaincredibility so that it can eventually become a source of robust knowledge andbe used in everyday life, the theory is forced to evolve. When presented with anew theory, the scientific community shares experiments, observations,feedback, and interprets the data in many distinct ways and varied settings soas to check the validity of the knowledge claimed in the theory. There are manyexamples throughout history in which peer review and feedback on theories have led to the robust knowledge that is nowused daily.
For example, the theory of spontaneousgeneration has been around for hundreds of years. According to the originaltheory hypothesized by Aristotle, leaving pieces of bread and cheese wrapped inrags and left in a corner resulted in mice being found in the rags afterseveral weeks.2Many people believed that the theory made clear by this experiment was correctas it explained why maggots could be found on rotting meat. However, throughdoubt from the scientific community and repeated experiments (bacterial growthon broth by Louis Pasteur), the theory of spontaneous generation was once againput into question.
Because of the disagreements regarding this knowledge claim,more effort and thought was put in to better developing this theory and its applications.Had some form of debate over past theories regarding spontaneous generation notoccurred, today’s knowledge on the subject, and on many other scientifictheories, would not be where it is. This example of theory building in theNatural Sciences clearly displays the benefits of both questioning a claim sothat robust knowledge can eventually be gained. However, there comes a point where constantly disagreeing with a certain claim will get researchers nowhere,as they will never be able to find a definitive answer to the original claim.
In this case, there must eventually be some kind of agreement on certain theoriesand equations so that researchers, and the scientific community as a whole, canuse those theories as stepping stones so as to move forward and improve their ownfindings. In this case, we must ask ourselves when consensus is beneficial togaining knowledge. In the Natural Sciences, theories about how the world works oftenarise out of theories that have already become laws.
After all, how wouldscientists have figured out how to create nuclear weapons without Einstein’s specialrelativity equation (E = m)?How would biologists have been able to question the behaviour and function ofDNA without Euler’s formula for polyhedra (F – E + V = 2)? These equations arenow widely accepted throughout the scientific community and used in all typesof research. Without consensus on these specific equations, scientists wouldstill be stuck at square one, without a clue on how to move forward in theirrespective fields. Consensus regarding these equations is what has letscientists build on knowledge in their disciplines and refine theirunderstanding of how the world works. Therefore, consensus is critical todefining a starting point when it comes to performing scientific research sothat knowledge regarding the subject can be achieved.
Without any kind ofconsensus, how can anyone researching in the Natural Sciences, or any empiricalfield, hope to gain or discover any viable knowledge? On the contrary, in some areas of knowledge, the gain of robustknowledge does not require both disagreement and consensus for it to beconsidered valid. In the Arts, knowledge gained by the work is incrediblysubjective to every person as art is made with the purpose of being interpretedin many different ways. However, even if there are opposing views or opinionson the knowledge gained from a piece of art, that disagreement does not nullifyeither knowledge claim as the work can be interpreted in any way the viewerwishes. If a group of people was lookingat Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for example, some of them might interpret thework as a symbol of mortality and death. Others might connect the work to theirown life experiences and leave with a totally different interpretation of the piece.However, regardless of the knowledge the person acquired after viewing theartwork, every piece of knowledge gained can be considered robust as its rootare found in the subjective, personal parts of the person’s mind. The knowledgecan, therefore, withstand intellectual criticism as every person’sinterpretation differs in some way from others.
Why criticize someone’s interpretation when your own is different fromeveryone else’s too? Therefore, in areas of knowledge based off of imaginationand creativity, having both disagreement and consensus are not essential to gainingviable and robust knowledge. Art is not meant to portray only one message, itis meant to prompt the viewer’s imagination so that they can derive their ownmeaning from the work. Unlike its empirical counterparts, the more subjectiveareas of knowledge prove that the opposite of the claim stated above is true.Art and similar areas of knowledge demonstrate how, no matter the number of people who agree with the knowledge, the quality, and validity of the knowledge does not change. In conclusion, are both disagreement and consensus explicitlyrequired to obtain robust and reputable knowledge? As demonstrated by theNatural Sciences, this claim is correct in its statement regarding theacquiring of knowledge. Consensus on a certain piece of knowledge is pertinentto ensuring that future researchers have something to base their own researchoff of and use as a stepping stone when exploring the world around them.However, as society evolves, so do the world’s theories, meaning that they mustalso change in order to keep up with the constantly changing world. The onlyway to ensure evolution is by questioning, debating, and disagreeing with past knowledge so as to obtain more validand reproducible knowledge in the future.
Without both consensus anddisagreement in the empirical areas of knowledge, we would not comprehend nearlyas much about the world as we do today. Contrarily, unlike the NaturalSciences, Art is an area of knowledge that derives knowledge solely based onthe subjective mind of the viewer. Therefore, every interpretation is differentand still correct. Both agreement and debate are not required when acquiringknowledge regarding forms of art as knowledge was not intended to be gained inthat manner. Therefore, to answer the initiallyposed question, “does the gain of robust knowledge rely on both debate andconsensus in all areas of knowledge?” the acquiring of robust knowledge dependson the area of knowledge.
Only when a distinction is made between which areasof knowledge require consensus and disagreement will real knowledge be gained. 1 https://mytok.blog/2017/10/10/deconstructing-the-may-2018-titles/ 2 https://www.britannica.com/science/spontaneous-generation