The a general lack of consensus, between academics
The essay prompt claims that in the creation of ‘robust’ knowledge, both consensus and disagreement is necessary. Consensus is defined as a general agreement, while disagreement is defined as a general lack of consensus, between academics on the validity of knowledge. From this, the knowledge question “Is both consensus and disagreement necessary in the creation of knowledge?” can be derived. In response to the prompt, it will be argued that in history, the creation of robust knowledge, knowledge that is perceived as valid and reliable, requires both consensus and disagreement through reasoning. However, the existence of overt disagreement does not always lead to the creation of robust knowledge but instead promotes confusion of validity. On the contrary, in the arts, robust knowledge, which is formed through intuition, does not depend upon disagreement.With History, through the use of logical reasoning, consensus is needed in reassuring the legitimacy of knowledge. However, disagreement is also needed to question pre-existing notions through discourse, which leads to the alteration and creation of new knowledge. As a standard practice of historians, historiography requires the use of dialectical thinking. Usually, a pre-existing argument is merged with a conflicting antithesis to create a synthesis, the combination of multiple arguments or perspectives into one. While a consensus in knowledge is crucial in establishing an initial observation, disagreement and doubt forces the revision and scrutiny of knowledge in order to maintain balance and nuance without the interference of personal emotions or morals, whether it be nationalistic fervor or personal loyalties. A historian has to consider the possibility that his perspective on a historical topic may be influenced by personal convictions before creating a nuanced, objective argument. Thus, logical reasoning is crucial when studying history. As stated by renowned South American historian Américo Castro, “The person who expects to understand history must submerge himself in it, must get rid of patriotism, as well as bitterness…… He must accept the totality of the data in all their fullness.” (Castro 164) Logical reasoning and dialectics, instead of intuition or emotion, are used to deduce an answer as objectively as possible, with and only with support from evidence. While dialectics in history does not fit within the framework of formal, mathematical logic, its use of critical thinking and argumentation still constitutes as logical reasoning. For example, a disagreement over Hitler’s maintenance of power in Nazi Germany exists. While Intentionalist historians and supporters of the “Great Man Theory” argued that Hitler maintained popularity mainly because of his personal attributes and charisma, Structuralist historians argued that “power blocs” within Germany like the SA or the NSDAP helped maintain Nazi power. (Kershaw 63) This allowed for a synthesis of perspectives as exemplified in historian Ian Kershaw’s book, “The Hitler Myth”, which stated that Hitler played a symbolic role as a “saviour of Germany” in the Nazi maintenance of power, (Kershaw 81) but is not the most important factor when compared to impersonal forces. (Kershaw 8) The creation of a synthesis not only negates the limitations of personal opinions, it also combines them to form a well-rounded perspective that considers multiple opinions, creating “robust knowledge”. In short, both consensus and disagreement is required to form robust knowledge.However, in the subject of history, excessive disagreement leads to an inability to maintain consensus, thus preventing the creation of robust knowledge. Because of the academic nature of the subject, which necessitates a drive towards a nuanced, or at least agreeable answer, when historical perspectives on knowledge are polarised to an extent that a synthesis of knowledge cannot occur, robust knowledge cannot be created. For example, while I was studying the history of the Soviet Union out of personal interest, I noticed a debate over whether or not the Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, can be classified as a genocide. Opinions range from “deliberate act of mass murder” to “preventable famine” as stated by R.W. Davies, to outright denial of the existence of a famine by Soviet historians. (Snyder 53) This is also reflected by the estimates of total deaths which range from 2.4 million to 10 million according to a recent Ukrainian study. (Davies 629) Because of the diversity in perspectives, with some influenced by political alignment, no conclusive knowledge could be effectively created. This creates difficulty in grasping history that is embroiled in controversy, as the wide variety of evidences gives no definitive answer. Robust knowledge does require both consensus and disagreement, but excessive disagreement may prevent nuanced conclusions from being made.Furthermore, with the arts, in particular film studies, disagreements do not necessarily lead to a synthesis of knowledge which is not necessitated due the abstract and subjective interpretation of film through intuition. Certain frameworks of filmic interpretation are widely used and applied, in which various elements of film language, such as lighting and cinematography are evaluated against the narrative context of a film to interpret meaning. However, interpretation of films, which can often be immediate, remains highly subjective to the viewer and his personal beliefs and experiences. The open ended nature of the subject, which does not recognize the interpretation of art as definitive and objective, does not require the synthesis of disagreements to create a stronger “argument”. Instead, an established framework of film language is used as a tool to decipher filmic devices that would otherwise be meaningless. This is similar to colour theory in visual arts, in which colours and the juxtaposition of colours are associated with connotations and meanings. From such a framework, meaning is derived from a film’s perceptual effect on the viewer. Even though the method a viewer uses to interpret films is systemised, the outcome is subjective to the viewer’s intuition. For example, in analysing a shot or a scene, there is no exact answer, but instead a range of deductions. In films of the Noir genre, the use of low-key lighting is often associated with evil and malicious intentions, of mystery and fear. However, it can also denote sentiments of ambiguity and confusion. In analysing the film “The Graduate”, different interpretations arose from the motif of water that is seen throughout the film. Water is depicted as an object that encloses the protagonist Benjamin. It often consumes the entire frame and surrounds him. This artistic intention seems to match with the theme of the film: The younger generation’s disillusionment and schism with American society and the older generation. However, there is no definite, exact interpretation of the motif: it could denote segregation between the protagonist and the older generation as well as the oppression of dated societal norms. This shows that various possible readings of a film or a scene can arise. It is difficult to disprove of an interpretation, since film analysis is largely open and intuitive, and is personal to the interpreter. Thus, in understanding a film, a definitive interpretation of it is not needed. In film studies, the focus is on the methodology of interpreting films, not on making an absolute interpretation. Disagreement in interpretations can coexist as “robust knowledge”. The concept of robust knowledge in art is, therefore, different from that of history. The process to enforce and create historical knowledge in history requires objectivity: the use of dialectics revolves around continuous scrutiny of disagreements and conflicting historical perspectives. In film, robust knowledge does not require disagreement. Instead, it is created with subjective interpretations, following a framework that has objective qualities, such as lighting. This raises the question of “what constitutes as artistic knowledge”: whether it is the ability to interpret and understand art, or the proficiency in creating art, or whether they are interchangeable. In conclusion, the nature and purpose of the area of knowledge determines whether robust knowledge requires both consensus and disagreement. In history, Both consensus and disagreement is involved the process of creating robust knowledge through dialectics. However, excessive disagreement can lead to confusion and the inability to generate conclusive knowledge. The arts and film studies, on the other hand, does not require disagreement, since the subjective nature of interpreting films can lead to multiple equally valid conclusions. Moreover, the knowledge question “Is both consensus and disagreement necessary in the creation of knowledge?” is not only relevant to the humanities. It can also pertain to the fields of the natural sciences, since the scientific method often involves consensus and disagreement: the formulation, alteration or rejection of hypotheses.