The art of the argument

Paul Graham wrote yet another excellent essey – “How to Disagree“.

The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.
Many who respond to something disagree with it. That’s to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there’s less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you’re entering territory he may not have explored.

He then proceeds with identifying a hierarchy of disagreements.  In his view, the forms of disagreement are:

  • DH0: Name-calling.
  • DH1: Ad Hominem.
  • DH2: Responding to Tone.
  • DH3: Contradiction.
  • DH4: Counterargument.
  • DH5: Refutation.
  • DH6: Refuting the Central Point.

Paul’s post reminded me of something – a course of formal logic back in college.  One of the things that course covered was a list of fallacies, which are often used in arguments either intentionally or not.  Of course, the complete list of fallacies is much longer and will take more time to memorize and understand.  But, if you wish to win and rule online (and offline) arguments, you should at least get familiar with those.

Paul organizes hist list of disagreement forms into a hierarchy. He says:

Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.

It would be nice to see a similar, hierarchy organization for the longer list of fallacies.   Which ones are the most frequent in online discussions?  Which ones are easier to create and why?  How to recognize and respond to them?

Leave a Comment