Rules of Engagement: from culture wars to reasonable disagreement

People can have fundamentally different views about the very nature and purpose of moral and social argument. Some see its potential as a respectful and reasonable approach to exploring disagreement, while others directly affected by polarisation and perhaps ideology, see argument purely as a fight to be won and the interlocutor as an opponent to defeat.

The current mode of disagreement too often falls into the last of these possibilities, almost by default. This does not help to deepen our understanding of important questions or to foster mutual understanding and respect, despite our differences. In fact, it works powerfully against it.

If we can find a better way of disagreeing, our life in common and our sense of a shared future will be stronger. Part of this entails modelling how we can have discussions about significant issues where people fundamentally disagree, while still being open to the possibility that we could be wrong, that our own starting points are not necessarily self-evident or intellectually compelling, and that our own reasoning is never beyond criticism.

To challenge these ideas, the institute, in collaboration with Professor Hayden Ramsay, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Coordination at ACU, established the Rules of Engagement Series. Two speakers who fundamentally disagree on a significant public policy question take part in conversation moderated by Professor Ramsay. Speakers are selected on the basis of their public profile in relation to the issue under discussion, as well as their willingness to explore their own moral reasoning and to consider where they might be wrong, where they might be able to agree with their opponents, and what they can learn from those with whom they disagree.

A conversation on euthanasia

On 20 November 2017, leading bioethicist and opponent of euthanasia, Professor Margaret Somerville was joined by the Hon. Trevor Khan MLC, who in September 2017 introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill as a Private Member’s bill into the NSW Parliament, to discuss euthanasia.

A conversation on ‘Is God Good for You?’

On 30 April 2019, the Hon. Bob Carr, an atheist, met with Greg Sheridan, a Catholic, to discuss whether or not God was indeed good for you, with Sheridan’s book God is Good for You: A defence of Christianity in troubled times providing the basis for their discussion.

The conversation series will continue in 2021.


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