Rational Discourse

September 8, 2014

Most people that know me (or at least follow me on social media) also know that I am a progressive. I have been called a bleeding-heart liberal, and I am not offended by the label. I disagree with the implications of the label, as I like to think that my positions are based on facts and logic. But I am prone to think that my beliefs are facts, just like most people.

I saw a Robert Reich posting on Facebook today, where he talked about the importance of engaging in dialogue with people who don’t share your opinions. His posting talked about what makes a productive talk; I would have titled it “the six signs of willful ignorance.” It inspired me to pull together this post, which has some tools for dialog that I’ve found on the ‘net.

I try to use these tools to judge my own position and arguments. Don’t you just hate it when you are arguing with someone and realize that you are the one who is being an ass in the discussion? These tools will help you avoid that. They will also help you recognize the holes in the other side.

To be honest, one of the biggest reasons for this post is to remind myself of a few things:

  • Why are you arguing? What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Why aren’t you listening and learning about the other person? Even if you completely disagree, there is something that you can learn.

One of my favorite sites is: Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies. I have a few of their posters up, although I still forget some of these. Logical fallacies are a favorite technique for winning arguments without using data. (Before you get all righteous about this, remember that your opponent may have data that they aren’t using – yet.)



The University of British Columbia has a toolkit for their students called Thinking Critically.  It is a more general approach, with basic questions like “Is there any information that is missing?” and “What is the source of the information”. I particularly like the flowchart.


Univ. British Columbia – Critical Thinking Questions


As you find the holes and logical fallacies, you also need to consider how you are building your own position. Paul Graham’s “disagreement hierarchy” is a simple diagram that can help you elevate your argument.


Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement


Finally, before you engage in a discussion, you might consider if it is worth the effort. You or your opponent may not be interested in a open discussion – perhaps one of you just wants to harangue the other into agreement. The “Debate Flow Chart” from AtheismResource.com is pretty good. Consider the motives and the potential costs before you begin!


Rational Debating


[Please note that I have linked all images back to their original sources. Don’t just copy on the Internet, be sure to give credit to the authors!]