Why and How to Debate Charitably

September 29, 2009

Chris Capel has written a short essay about “why and how to debate charitably,” and I’m struggling to find anything significant to disagree with him about.*  You should really read the whole thing, but I’ll provide his list of rules with short explanations below:

1. The golden rule – “treat the person’s position as if it were your own.”

2.  You cannot read minds – when someone appears inconsistent, consider that you could simply misunderstand their argument.

3.  People are not evil – “You should be extremely suspicious about your judgment of a person’s position when you think that position has implications that you find distasteful (or worse).”

4. Debates are not for winning – “Never make a person defend words that they’ve abandoned.”

5.  You make mistakes – “many more than you realize…   Look for your mistakes, and admit to them.”

6.  Not everyone cares as much as you – “be willing to tolerate people who apparently hold distasteful positions.”

7.  Engaging is hard work.

8.  Differences can be subtle.

9.  Give up quietly – “If you don’t want to engage someone using all these rules, don’t engage them at all.”

I hope that this forum, Permutations, will host productive discussions and debates.  You need not involve yourself in them, but I hope that you do, and I hope that if you do, you debate charitably.

*Admittedly, I would water this list down a little bit.  Instead of rules, I would call these guidelines.  For example, I don’t believe people should be required to ignore every argument they can’t engage at the highest and most charitable level.  If Chris and I ever get the chance to discuss this point, I have a feeling that we’ll be able to come to agreement.  Perhaps you have stronger disagreements?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Dr. Strangesoc, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love mathematics

September 24, 2009

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matthew E. Brashears. I’m an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Cornell University and am currently serving as the webmaster for the ASA section on Mathematical Sociology. As a part of my duties as webmaster, I have played a role in organizing this blog. I have done my best to recruit an interesting group of contributors, all of whom have a great deal to say about mathematics, sociology, and the intersection between them. Yet, as I assembled this team, I have often been asked a question. This question has, off and on, been echoed by a variety of colleagues who have learned of my efforts: why? Put more fully: why on earth should an ASA section start a blog?
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September 1, 2009

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