Jeremy Freese on Blogging and Public Intellectuals

November 17, 2009

From a short article in the journal Society by Jeremy Freese:

Blogs are distinct from their predecessors for the pervasiveness of quotation and the extent to which authors keep your attention by continually directing it elsewhere. If one thinks in terms of the services that public intellectuals contribute—new ideas, means of making sense of the events of our times, moral conscience—than the important question is whether the new model of decentralized collaboration provides these services better than a model in which a few erudite individuals are identified as the souls of the age.

The answer is yes.

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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.