For years Paul Graham has been writing some of the most crisply insightful essays of anyone on the internet.  Today I came across (again) his 2008 advice on how to disagree.  Of course you should read it yourself, but here’s the tl;dr.

He proposes a hierarchy of forms of disagreement, viz.,

  • DH6. Refuting the Central Point.
  • DH5. Refutation.
  • DH4. Counterargument.
  • DH3. Contradiction.
  • DH2. Responding to Tone.
  • DH1. Ad Hominem.
  • DH0. Name-calling.

Of course, he’s in favour of higher forms of disagreement. (I reversed his order of presentation to put the higher forms at the “top”.)

Pair this with Daniel Dennett’s How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  • You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  • You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  • You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  • Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Thanks to el__vaquero on flickr for image.