Agree to disagree

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The term "agree to disagree" or "agreeing to disagree" is a phrase in English referring to the resolution of a conflict (usually a debate or quarrel) whereby all parties tolerate but do not accept the opposing position(s). It generally occurs when all sides recognise that further conflict would be unnecessary, ineffective or otherwise undesirable. They may also remain on amicable terms while continuing to disagree about the unresolved issues.


The phrase "agree to disagree" first appeared in print in 1770 when, at the death of George Whitefield, John Wesley wrote a memorial sermon which acknowledged, but downplayed, the two men's doctrinal differences:

There are many doctrines of a less essential nature ... In these we may think and let think; we may 'agree to disagree.' But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials...[1]

Wesley was the first to put the phrase "agree to disagree" in print,[2] but he enclosed it in quotation marks. In a subsequent letter to his brother Charles, Wesley attributed it to Whitefield (presumably George Whitefield): "If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree."[3] Whitefield had used it in a letter as early as June 29, 1750.

"After all, those who will live in peace must agree to disagree in many things with their fellow-labourers, and not let little things part or disunite them."[4]

The phrase "agree to differ" predates "agree to disagree", having appeared in the early part of the century in a sermon by John Piggott: "And now why should we not agree to differ, without either enmity or scorn?"[5] (Sermon on Union and Peace, preach'd to several Congregations, April 17, 1704). It expresses a similar idea without the play on words.


Its advantage over "agree to disagree" is that it does not pose an apparent logical contradiction. Game theorist and mathematician Robert Aumann argues that two people with common prior probability cannot agree to disagree.[6] However, the issues of agreement and disagreement are about separate concerns. Hence, the phrase is not actually a contradiction, when the implied parts are inserted: "agree [in principle] to disagree [about other issues]". The wording can be considered as a form of elliptical phrase, where the omitted portions, as two separate concerns, will help to clarify the intended meaning of the short phrase. The agreement is a long-term strategy, as a shared viewpoint of the opposing sides, to leave the disagreement, about the other issues, as an unresolved matter.

Economist Frank J. Fabozzi argues that it is not rational for investors to agree to disagree; they must work toward consensus, even if they have different information. For financial investments, Fabozzi posits that an investor's overconfidence in his abilities (irrationality) can lead to "agreeing to disagree"—the investor thinks he is smarter than others.[7]

A related phrase, normally reserved for informal and temporary arrangements in political affairs, is the Latin phrase "modus vivendi" (literally, "way of living"), and it is used in the same manner as "agree to disagree". However, it can be viewed as a thought-terminating cliché in certain circumstances.


  1. ^ Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church. Sermons. On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, page 2. Retrieved on 20 April 2009.
  2. ^ The Phrase Finder. Agree to disagree. Retrieved on 20 April 2009.
  3. ^ Whitehead, John. The life of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A. [1] 1793, p. 529. Retrieved on 27 September 2012.
  4. ^ Whitefield, George. The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield, Volume 2 [2] 1771, p. 362. Retrieved on 20 September 2013
  5. ^ Piggott, John. Eleven Sermons. [3] 1714, p. 290. Retrieved on 27 September 2012.
  6. ^ Aumann, Robert J. Agreeing to disagree, Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences, Stanford University, 1975. Retrieved on 20 April 2009.
  7. ^ Fabozzi, Frank J. (2004). Short selling: strategies, risks, and rewards. Frank J. Fabozzi series 137. John Wiley and Sons. p. 186. ISBN 0-471-66020-5.