Moral Negotiation

Adapted from Bernard Rosen

People may disagree for basically two reasons--either they differ in information or they differ in values.

There is often no way to resolve differences in values, except to tolerate each other's differences. BUT it is not necessary to assume from the outset that values differences are insoluble. Bernard Rosen has proposed a 5-step process for exploring differences in values:

  1. Describe the values issue in question--describe the situation in terms that reflect the disagreement rather than hide it.
  2. Ask everyone (pro, con, undecided) to present reasons for each opposing side.
  3. List these reasons in the form of "if" (antecedents) "then" (consequents) conditional statements.
  4. Obtain agreement on the terms of the if/then statements.
  5. Discuss factual disagreements about items in the antecedent statements.

When people disagree about the meaning of an issue, it may be because they are making different assumptions about how one thing leads to another. If they discuss those assumptions, they may find that the disagreement was based on the differences in their assumptions. These differences can then be tested (turning what first appeared to be a question of values into a question of facts--does lowering industrial property taxes directly result in higher employment?). In more formal language: In those cases where values differences arise from disagreement about the factual antecents, clarifying the conditional statements can lead to resolution of the factual issues.


For each of the following scenarios, negotiate the value differences implied:

  1. A regional planner is preparing a fair share housing plan for the communities in a several-county region. Knowing that the idea of every community taking its fair share of low and moderate income housing will be tough to get accepted by the COG-type regional commission, s/he puts into the plan several strong recommendations which will generate very strong opposition, but which s/he feels are expendable and might be traded off for support from some of the commissioners for the central aspects of the fair share plan.
  2. A staff planner for a regional planning agency is fairly certain that the agency's director purposely left out certain findings from a draft of a wetlands preservation study. The findings were objectively documented and presented by the staff planner, but the agency director felt it presented a point of view that the regional planning commission does not support. The staff planner feels these findings should not be kept from the public and, without authorization, gives them to an environmental group which is strongly in favor of a wetlands preservation program.


© 1997 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 15 January 1997