Philosopher Daniel Dennett teaches you how to argue intelligently, in 4 steps

I think we all can agree that arguments are never fun.

Even when you know you’re right, the anger and tension that it causes just isn’t worth it.

So, how can you have a productive discussion that both parties benefit from?

First of all, it’s important to realize that the term “argue” means to give reason to something, give evidence of, and to consider the pros and cons. It also means to persuade.

Contrary to popular opinion (and the internet), it has nothing to do with insulting each other.

There’s a right way to have an argument.

In fact, according to modern philosopher Daniel Dennett, all we have to do  is consider 4 important rules to advance any discussion we may be involved in. In short, these are the 4 rules that will teach you how to argue. Check them out:

How to compose a successful critical commentary

“In disputes upon moral or scientific points,” Arthur Martine wrote in his 1866 guide to the art of conversation, “let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.”

This is the key point being made by Daniel Dennett in formulating his 4 rules teaching you how to argue:

  1. 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.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

If only this code of conduct could be applied to comments on Facebook!

In his book, Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking, Dennett says that these rules are an excellent psychological strategy to make your opponent more receptive to your criticism and points, which will help advance the discussion.

And of course, with the goal of re-expressing your target’s position clearly, it will only help you listen more intently and understand the point they’re trying to get across.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll learn more in the process as well – a worthy goal for any of us to have.

Check out Sam Harris reflecting on arguing with Daniel Dennett.


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