Agree to disagree

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"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 positions. 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" appeared in print in its modern meaning 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 enclosed the phrase in quotation marks,[2] and in a subsequent letter to his brother Charles, 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]

Though Whitefield and Wesley appear to have popularized the expression in its usual meaning, it had appeared in print much earlier (1608) in a work by James Anderton, writing under the name of John Brereley, Priest. His usage lacks the later implication of tolerance of differing beliefs, though.

And as our learned adversaries do thus agree to disagree in their owne translations, mutually condemning (as before) each other... (The Protestants Apologie for the Roman Church Deuided into three seuerall Tractes)[5]

The phrase "agree to differ" — which does express the modern idea of "agree to disagree" — appeared in the early part of the 18th century in a sermon by John Piggott: "And now why should we not agree to differ, without either enmity or scorn?"[6] (Sermon on Union and Peace, preach'd to several Congregations, April 17, 1704). It expresses a similar idea without the play on words.

Also related in meaning is the modern usage of the Latin phrase modus vivendi (lit. 'mode of living'), normally reserved for informal and temporary arrangements in political affairs.

Game theory[edit]

Game theorist and mathematician Robert Aumann argues that two people with common prior probability cannot "agree to disagree" on posterior probabilities (on predicting the likelihood of outcomes, the theorem makes no statement on preference or value judgement regarding outcomes).[7]

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 investors' overconfidence in their abilities (irrationality) can lead to "agreeing to disagree" if the investor thinks they are smarter than the market.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church. Sermons. On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, page 2. Archived October 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine 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. ^ Brereley, John (1608). The Protestants Apologie for the Roman Church Deuided into three seuerall Tractes.
  6. ^ Piggott, John. Eleven Sermons. [3] 1714, p. 290. Retrieved on 27 September 2012.
  7. ^ Aumann, Robert J. Agreeing to disagree, Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences, Stanford University, 1975. Retrieved on 20 April 2009.
  8. ^ 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.