How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, Apr 10, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Now let me put this in context: Dennett (author of Consciousness Explained  and The Intentional Stance) is one of the world's most respected philosophers today. He, probably more than anyone else in the world, knows how a good argument works. Here is his method (and, I might add, my method):"

  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."

What do you think the point of OLDaily is? Oh sure, I'm known for my razor-sharp witticisms in these pages, and for occasionally offering my own opinion. But the primary effort here is to embrace the first three points. Without reading and summarizing thousands of conflicting and contrasting views, I would not have the credibility to offer criticisms and objections. This is the method Dennett knows well.

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