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.