Patterico's Pontifications


Rule #1 of Respectful Argument

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:04 am

Rule Number One of respectful argument is to phrase your opponent’s argument — the argument you’re responding to — in such a way that your opponent would agree with it.

The rule, when followed, has at least two benefits. First, helps to ensure that the argument is about actual issues, rather than a spiraling series of accusations that the other guy is misrepresenting your position, and vice versa. Second, it forces you to think a little more about what the other guy believes, and why.

This rule is nice in theory, but is almost never observed in practice. Ninety-nine percent of argument either misstates the opponent’s argument, or at least gives it a crabbed interpretation that the opponent would not recognize as his own.

I’d like to encourage us to try to do better here. Recognize the rule and try to follow it.

It’s hard, I know; I’m sure I violate this rule all the time. But it’s a good goal.

29 Responses to “Rule #1 of Respectful Argument”

  1. Then perhaps Rule #2 would be not to begin an argument by calling the host a f***ing liar?

    Old Coot (581b7e)

  2. See also straw man and Fallacy: Straw Man.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  3. Does this mean I’m not allowed to bait the trolls? It’s more fun than using a magnifying glass on ants.

    Some Other Steve (SOS) (649c9f)

  4. SOS, I think one of them wanted to be called a provocateur rather than a troll.

    Dana (3e4784)

  5. This is a good way to start the New Year. I’ll take the pledge.

    DRJ (51a774)

  6. Patterico: in this post you’ve completely mischaracterized my position on mandatory seatbelt laws! I demand that you recant!


    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  7. Couldn’t agree more, Pat, et al. Another rule might be to observe the rules of logic and to avoid using logical fallacies (see #2 above, post hoc ergo proptor hoc and ad hominem are two other favorites).

    I will take the pledge but SOS does make a good point … it’s just so hard …

    Finally, just because someone has made a factually incorrect statement does NOT necessarily indicate that they are a liar or are engaged in intentional deception. This one will be hard for the far left to give up – their hatred of Bush, and all who are to the right of Jimmy Carter and Teddy Kennedy, is so comforting to them.

    Harry Arthur (5af33b)

  8. All joking aside … I agree that this is a good rule, and absent arguments with my husband (where I’m terrible about it, because I’m reacting emotionally, not thoughtfully), I try to follow it. I don’t always succeed.

    I would add, though, that I find that, when watching conversations between other people, I tend to be much more likely to believe what is said by someone who is following this rule than by someone who isn’t; it suggests that their analytical judgement can be trusted.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  9. So basically you’re asking us to water down our arguments so that noone disagrees?

    That sucks.

    A case in point (e8227e)

  10. check this:

    assistant devil's advocate (a76e2b)

  11. ADA,

    That was an interesting link. Thanks.

    DRJ (51a774)

  12. A Case In Point,

    I think he’s asking us to be honest about our positions so that we can have a meaningful debate. Frankly, if we stick to P’s guidelines, I suspect we will disagree more rather than less, but our disagreements will be based on topics instead of personalities or gotchas.

    DRJ (51a774)

  13. That’s a very good rule. Anyone can flame, but actually taking the trouble to understand someone else’s point of view takes some thinking. Trolls, of course, don’t deserve such consideration. (Although like a hog getting in the mud, trolls don’t really care about getting flamed).

    Bradley J. Fikes (19f52f)

  14. Re: link in #10

    It could be those “psychopaths” are suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.

    Dubya (c16726)

  15. Bradley:

    More to the point, some trolls want to get flamed (Ha, look, I’ve infuriated the other side, yaaaay!), some want to derail arguments (Look, there’s a flamingo!), and some wish to run the blog w/o running the blog (Hey, Patterico, how come you never write about XYZ, instead of about the LAT or whathaveyou?).

    In none of these cases are they interested in understanding the other person’s POV, b/c:

    A. They’re not interested in other people’s POV; and
    B. They’re not really interested in expressing their own POV (other than that the host is wrong, the thread should be about something else, Republicrats are nasty, etc.).

    Lurking Observer (ea88e8)

  16. DRJ,

    I think “A case in point” was being ironic. I’m basing that on the name. Pretty subtle, though.

    Patterico (906bfc)

  17. Thanks, P, I thought of that but I’m one of those internet people described in ADA’s link who have problems with social cues on the internet. Irony is lost on me.

    DRJ (51a774)

  18. Instapundit (linking PJMedia) says Iran’s Ayatollah Khameni has died. Is that something we can respectfully agree is good news?

    DRJ (51a774)

  19. yes drj, i agree it’s good news, maybe it will open the door for a moderate but i doubt it, the way iran is set up, the elected president has very little power, they have a supreme leader from the clergy and the remaining ayatollahs will get together to pick a new one and i’ve never heard of a moderate ayatollah.

    i got the link off of metafilter where they’re talking about trolls/psychopaths today, then i come over here and see the same thing; there’s some kinda harmonic conversion happnin here.

    assistant devil's advocate (a76e2b)

  20. oh, and my problem isn’t picking up social cues, it’s caring what my critics think about me. i wrote a song about that once, “bad hair day”, where the refrain starts:
    “i’m having a baaaad hair day
    i’m letting you know, get out of my way!”

    assistant devil's advocate (a76e2b)

  21. Those with a New Years Resolution to improve their debating skills might find this helpful.

    Regret (98303b)

  22. Good points. I’ll keep them in mind.

    Justin Levine (20f2b5)

  23. Rule Number One of respectful argument is to phrase your opponent’s argument — the argument you’re responding to — in such a way that your opponent would agree with it.

    I’d hope they teach you guys this in law or prosecutor’s school too. I damn well know when someone is non responsive, and I’ve sat on 3 juries so far.

    Its simple. Answer the question. I know immediately when someone is dodging – especially in a close environment like a courtroom. A prosecutor especially should be extremely careful here, because I promise at least 33% of your jury is attuned to this.

    Dwilkers (4f4ebf)

  24. What? Give up snark and snide? Is there a 12 stepper for that? I’d feel like a simulacrum.

    Ms. Judged (f2e636)

  25. A very good rule, Patterico. I think I heard it first in a theory of communication class in the early 1960s, and am constantly surprized that it’s not better known.

    htom (412a17)

  26. Respectful argument? On a blog whose particpants have Neville (amongst others) on one side and X on the other?


    The old way is much more fun to read.

    JD (044292)

  27. You can do whatever you want. It’s not a hard and fast rule.

    Just a suggestion.

    Neville and some others don’t really deserve the same courtesy as those who work to earn it.

    Patterico (906bfc)

  28. A corollary to this would be that when the other person corrects one’s misstatement, you don’t keep misstating their arguments. I don’t really have a problem with someone who tells me that I mischaracterized their point (maybe I just missed it completely), but it is really infuriating, and causes the debate to go way off topic, if you have to keep saying, “Stop mischaracterizing what I’ve said.” :)

    sharon (dfeb10)

  29. You ought to tell this to G Bush. Many liberals and conservatives were concerned that wiretapping without a warrent was a dangerous power for the President to assume. The President then told his adoring throngs, that Democrats did not want the administration listening in on terrorists conversations! Talk about misstating something!! and deliberately done too..

    Thus he angered millions by making it seem that some were against wiretapping and angered others by misstating what they had said!!

    He does it all the time but what do you expect from this disgusting disgrace to America and all we used to stand for?

    Charlie (55cd2b)

Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.2405 secs.