On Disagreeing

I found this on the web about how to disagree...
http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html
There are seven 'Disagreement Hierarchy' levels from the worst method to the best.
DH0. Name-calling.
DH1. Ad Hominem.
DH2. Responding to Tone.
DH3. Contradiction.
DH4. Counterargument.
DH5. Refutation.
DH6. Refuting the Central Point.

I guess its probably unproductive to do anything below level 4.
And level 6 is best. Here is what is said about level 6.
The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.

Even as high as DH5 we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting someone's grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one's opponent.

Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like:
The author's main point seems to be x. As he says:

But this is wrong for the following reasons...
The quotation you point out as mistaken need not be the actual statement of the author's main point. It's enough to refute something it depends upon.


However, is it productive even to disagree at all??? Of course, avoiding disagreement maybe looks aloof, but disagreeing is often extremely time consuming and doesn't necessarily create positive alternatives. Disagreeing in detail often requires an obsession to a task which may be unhealthy.

Anyway, I have the following summary:

  1. Spend time understanding the central point of your interlocutor
  2. Paraphrase this point and even comment yourself. If you have the time to read something, you have the time to comment on it
  3. Suggest positive arguments yourself in the area that really matters, although not necessarily in the same post


There is a danger of all of this 'directed' advice, that danger is that your interlocutor may see this as a 'war' and this war will induce an 'arms race'. You need to move to a more cooperative state; or at least a state where there is some degree of cooperation over shared goals or rules of the game. In general, we need to focus not on how to win the argument, but on the arguments themselves. Truth and reasonableness are higher goals than momentary victory.

4 comments:

Andy said...

"Disagreeing in detail often requires an obsession to a task which may be unhealthy." - very true... Lately I've been reading a lot of Jennifer Rohn's blog on Nature Network see: http://network.nature.com/people/UE19877E8/blog/2008/11/01/in-which-scientific-thinking-is-like-karate

Here there's an interesting discussion of the social vs philosophical merits of taking up a position that you don't actually believe for the sake of argument. This can create an even greater impression of aloofness than simply avoiding disagreement.

By the way, I'd like to send a resounding DH2 to your use of the word interlocutor.

TheClimatePhilosopher said...

Thanks! I read all of that especially enjoyed the chat. That discussion was delightful! Some of the more shrill parts of the blogosphere should take note!!! :)

An argument originating in Aristotle suggests that persuasion is about Logos, Ethos and Pathos. So we need arguments, some sense of a consistent character, and appeal to people's emotions.

Regarding scientific Karate (go girl go!!:), interestingly, on 'Start the Week' a few months back, one of the speakers suggested we need 'institutional karate' to solve our climate change problems. ie. our institutions are a 'machine for destroying the planet' but that we need to turn their power round to solve the problem. Interesting thought.

...

'Fellow Conversationalist'? Maybe too many syllables? But I'm not aiming to start a conversation here ;)

TheClimatePhilosopher said...

Very rarely personal insults are funny, although not usually useful. The Postive-Negative-Positive sandwich principle might still apply even in this case...

This example is from understanding how to sync Palm software (for my New Alphasmart Neo with google)...

Ivan "I think Bill Gates should reinforce his personal security until someone throws this boy into an asylum (maybe Arkhan?)..."



Dr Opinion
"You sound a little hostile, can't we all get along? :)

Hypothetically, were you able to learn and eventually hold a decent job, you might one day find yourself in an executive capacity.

You'd then notice that it is helpful for your PIM application and email application to be integrated, since very often you want to the software to "create an event from an email". Outlook provides this necessary feature, and so does Gmail/Google Calendar, and soon we'll be able to sync with them.

Oh, and shut your traphole, dickwad. :)

Hope this helped. Have a nice day.

TheClimatePhilosopher said...

From Robin H:
DH7??: Weaken the conclusion
DH8??: Insist upon more rigorous standards of evidence