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.