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The consensus is the consensus of opinion of people on a specific question without hidden or open conflict .


The word consensus was borrowed in the office language in the 15th century from the Latin cōnsēnsus meaning 'agreement, consent'. Cōnsēnsus belongs to the Latin cōnsentīre , which means 'together, agree, agree'. The title Consensus is given to those historical documents and writings in which an agreement reached in dogmatic disputes is documented.

Consensus in Political Theory

In political theory , consensus in the sense of a category is a central theme of identity theory : It means ideas that describe dissent and diversity in a society as disturbing. Such ideas can be found u. a. with Plato , Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( volonté générale ), Karl Marx or Carl Schmitt . In contrast, there is the pluralism theory - z. B. Ernst Fraenkel and Hannah Arendt - with their forerunners from Aristotle to John Locke ( agree to disagree ) to Immanuel Kant .

In his work The Open Society and Its Enemies , Karl Popper in particular dealt with the risk of the consensus procedure being misused for political manipulation . Max Scheler , on the other hand, sees emotional contagion (subconscious transmission of meaning and knowledge) as the cause of the emergence of a consensus.

Consensus in the legal system

Consensus exists as a counterpart to dissent in contract law . This means that the declarations of intent of both contracting parties agree on the points of the contract . There is therefore no problem with the creation or with the interpretation, whereby the contract has become legally binding. Since there are no problems with consensus, it is not explicitly regulated in the civil code in the sense of a legal definition : consensus is assumed to be a normal state in contract law.

Consensus in science

The scientific consensus is a broad agreement in specialist circles as to what the state of science is on a question. A scientific consensus that has been established does not contribute to establishing the truth within the specialist community; the state of science does not have to be true despite consensus. But it is important as a basis for decision-making in public, politics or law.

Consensus in technical standardization

Consensus is defined in standardization as "general agreement, which is characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to essential content on the part of any important part of the interests concerned and by a procedure that tries to take into account the viewpoints of all parties concerned and to dispel all counter-arguments." DIN EN 45020 standardization and related activities (general terms)

Consensus as a goal in group decisions

In order to be able to reach a consensus in a group, all persons must have the opportunity to express their objection to the decision . This does not mean that those involved are also clearly satisfied with the decision: Satisfaction and approval are not just signs of a lack of resistance, but also completely different psychological qualities. Even in an individual, approval and rejection of an alternative can exist at the same time: The person can feel ambivalent (“two souls in my breast”). It is not possible to infer a possible approval from a slight or non-existent resistance. Even approval does not rule out the possibility of resistance nonetheless.

Accordingly, when making decisions based on the principle of consensus, the position of the individual group members is usually more precisely graded and recorded:

  • The member stands behind the decision and supports it in full.
  • The member supports the decision, but expresses concerns about it, which should mostly be recorded.
  • The member abstains, leaves the decision to the others and supports them.
  • The member cannot support the decision, expresses serious concerns (which mostly have to be recorded). However, it waives a formal objection so as not to hinder the group's ability to make decisions .
  • The member stands aside. It can neither approve nor support the proposal. However, it does not want to block and therefore stands aside.
  • The member raises a formal objection to the decision (cf. veto ). If this is true for even a single group member, then there is no consensus in the group. In practice, the threshold for dissent can sometimes be set higher in order to enable decisions to be made by consensus.

The extent to which the individual group members represent their motives authentically cannot be adequately assessed from the outside. A lack of sincerity is entirely compatible with a rudimentary concept of consensus. If the group members are to be expected to be honest about the issue in question, then this is an agreement that can also be found beforehand in consensus. The downside is that reaching consensus can be a lengthy process.

Decision-making methods

Methods of equal treatment

  • The search for the general consensus in the group usually takes place through intensive discussions among the group members.
  • Decisions based on the principle of consensus: First, the general consensus is sought. If this can not be found, convergence used methods, in order to reduce the remaining residual resistance (eg. As by mediation ) or, finally, to pass over it by mutual agreement.
  • Decisions for which only the approval of the group is decisive: The resistance of the group members does not play a role in these procedures. Only the individual consent of all group members to different decision alternatives is collected and from this the collective consent of the group is determined. For this purpose there are different aggregation methods, which can lead to different results:
    • The decision by majority : If no decision alternative receives an absolute majority, several ballots are often carried out so that alternatives that are less ranked are successively excluded ( runoff methods ; e.g. " runoff ").
    • The preferred choice ( Ranked Voting ) in different forms: Here the individual decision alternatives are ranked by each participant according to their individual preference and from this - in a specific way for each level - a collective ranking is determined (e.g. " Schulze method ").
    • The review choice ( Range Voting ): In this case, each alternative of each voting according to their individual preferences with numbers (points) of a predetermined interval, evaluated, for example, 0 to 99 or 1 to 10, with higher values higher individual preferences correspond. Then the assigned values ​​are added up for each decision alternative. The decision alternative with the highest sum receives the greatest approval in the group and is accordingly considered the “winner”. Decisions based on scoring are mainly known from sport.

Methods of weighting

It is mostly less about content than about maintaining or shifting the weightings among the participants. This is often reflected in the results:

The lazy compromise
For reasons of balance of power , a balance is brought about between the opponents . This often shows up in groups after long and violent conflicts . Then either one of the conflicting parties gives in so that a decision can finally be reached. At the next best possible opportunity, this conflicting party will then be asked to make a decision. Or both parties give in to get closer by exchanging ideas.
The winner-loser game
Here, the one who appears most convincingly, but does not allow the others to come through, wins. He brings his opponents to silence and resignation through manipulation or by means of power .

See also


  • Stephan Eisel : Plea for the majority rule. In: ZParl 4/1985, pp. 576-580.
  • Josef Seifert : Consensus Theories and Discourse Theories. What is and what does “consensus” mean? In: De veritate. The dispute over the truth. Truth and theories of truth. Ontos, Heusenstamm 2009, pp. 199f.

Web links

Wiktionary: Consensus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Duden, The dictionary of origin. Etymology of the German language . Keyword: "Consensus". Dudenverlag, Mannheim / Leipzig / Vienna / Zurich 2006.
  2. Max Scheler: 2nd axiom of the sociologist of knowledge. After: Wolfhart Henckmann: Max Scheler. 1998, p. 186.
  3. ^ Herbert Schattke: Interrelationships between law, technology and science - using the example of nuclear law . In: Alexander Roßnagel (Hrsg.): Law and technology in the field of tension of the nuclear energy controversy . 1984, ISBN 978-3-531-11694-5 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-322-83941-1 .
  4. Michael Mulkay: Consensus in science . In: Information (International Social Science Council) . 17th year, no. 1 , 1978, p. 107-122 .
  5. Laszlo Kosolosky and Jeroen Van Bouwel: Explicating Ways of Consensus-Making in Science and Society: Distinguishing the Academic, the Interface and the Meta-Consensus . In: Carlo Martini and Marcel Boumans (eds.): Experts and Consensus in Social Science (=  Ethical Economy: Studies in Economic Ethics and Philosophy . Volume 50 ). 2014, ISBN 978-3-319-08550-0 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-319-08551-7_4 .
  6. What consultants pay attention to: Competencies - Methods - Trends