How to Have a Rational Discussion

Editor’s Note: Brandon Scott Gorrell, who created this graph, admits that “perhaps it is mere wishful thinking, this diagram; perhaps reasonable discussion is altogether impossible (esp. on the internet), and we only hope in vain to one day live in a world where people are ready and willing to, you know, talk it out reasonably.”


3 Responses to “How to Have a Rational Discussion”
  1. Anna Haynes says:

    It’s indeed a great flowchart, but what I think it overlooks is that the outcome *shouldn’t* be treated as final. We get better results if we *don’t* treat it as “once you’ve lost, you’ve lost”; but rather, “perhaps I overlooked another factor (that wasn’t blatantly jumping up & down in front of my face) that’d influence the outcome, so let me go back to the drawing board”.

    This solves two related problems:
    1. When people think the outcome as final, and they don’t feel 100% prepared with arguments, they’ll likely be unwilling to participate, or will do so with suspicion & distrust if they can’t see where an argument will lead.
    2. And they’re likely suspicious for good reason, because *if* it’s rigid, it’s vulnerable to misuse by a bad-faith operator – who can say “but back here you said X, and now you’re saying not-X” – if they’re implicitly (& wrongly) disallowing the option that maybe there’s something different between the 2 contexts that you’re responding to with your “X” and “not-X” remarks.

    Typically we respond to a particular provocation with a general rule-of-disapproval; but this pattern is susceptible to bad-faith misuse, by someone crafting a different particular provocation that logically fits under the same rule, but socially (quantitatively?) doesn’t.
    And this misuse effectively muddies the waters, for an audience not predisposed to distinguish shades of gray.
    Example: freedom of speech vs. denial-of-service.
    Other examples?

    And now, returning to “it’s better to use the flowchart iteratively”:
    IMO successive approximations is the way to get where we want to go.

    Is it possible to craft a set of rules for productive & rational discussion that **aren’t** vulnerable to bad-faith hijacking?

  2. Anna Haynes says:

    “…perhaps I overlooked another factor…” – i.e., use the norms of science, & not of primate-social-dominance conflicts.

  3. Anna Haynes says:

    (My above comment has grown obscure (to me at least) with the passage of time. What I meant was, rather than treat the flowchart as a rigid prescription & treat the outcome of the argument as final, we should instead draw from the norms of science, & treat the outcome as provisional, subject to revision upon receipt of further information or insight or attention.)

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