January 7, 2016: Faculty Lecture
John Beatty (First Seminar for Term 2)

IRES Seminar Series

Time: 12:30-1:30 pm

Location: AERL Theatre (room 120), 2202 Main Mall

The Ambiguity of Consensus



Abstract: Perhaps the most familiar notion of “consensus” involves some sort of counting – e.g., vote tallying – resulting in unanimity or a majority. But consensus is a heterogeneous category. And some important forms, as practiced, are quite different from this. I will consider a form of consensus that goes by various names, referring to its various aspects: “decision by interpretation,” “apparent consensus,” “nemine contradicente,” “joint agreement.” It is not about counting, not about unanimity or a majority. What especially concerns me here is the manner in which this form of consensus represents the epistemic state-of-play of a community of experts, without revealing differences among the community members with regard to the issues under consideration. Such apparent consensus can therefore mask considerable disagreement. I will discuss contexts and senses in which such decision procedures are, and are not, advantageous for groups of experts. I will illustrate differences between such consensus practices, and the more commonly analyzed unanimity and majority practices, with reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


John Beatty teaches history and philosophy of science, and social and political philosophy, in the Department of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. John’s research focuses on the theoretical foundations, methodology, and socio-political dimensions of genetics and evolutionary biology. His current research projects concern more specifically: 1) the distinction between “history” and “science,” and the respects in which evolutionary biology is as much like the former as it is like the latter; 2) changing views of contingency and necessity in the evolutionary biology; 3) relationships between biology and “the state,” from the Manhattan Project to the Human Genome Project; and 4) issues concerning the nature of scientific “authority.”