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Rules for Discussion

42 short recommendations for discussions seeking for truth

     The Question

01. Make the question to be answered as clear and precise as possible before you start the discussion.

02. Explain why answering this question is important for you.

03. Keep an eye on answering the original question. You don't have to correct everything false being stated. Resign from discussing points that don't belong to the subject though they may be interesting.

04. Make a clear distinction between contributions to the subject and other kinds of contributions e.g. remarks about other participants or proposals for further proceeding.


05. Ask yourself whether your arguments are expressed in such a way that other people are able to understand and share them.

06. If you make a statement using rather abstract concepts illustrate its meaning by a simple example if possible.

07. Avoid short arguments useful for rough blows only. There is little that can be confirmed or refuted in one or two sentences. Always speak in complete sentences.

08. If necessary, decompose a conclusion into its single logical steps.

09. Avoid a language, that is highly evaluative and at the same time rather void of information. The unfavourable description of a theoretical position is not yet a founded criticism.

10. Don't assert anything without being able to support it if required.

11. Don't argue using premises which you are not ready to be called into question.

12. Don't ask for a reason of an assertion unless you have reasonable doubts about it.

13. Don't appeal to proofs you cannot reproduce yourself. Hints to books or internet sites cannot replace the argument here and now.

14. Don't appeal to authorities if you are unable to reproduce their position.

15. You may be pleased if someone shares your opinion, but citations are no proofs.


16. Clarify and specify the concepts which are central for the subject discussed - as far as it is necessary in the actual context.

17. Avoid unproductive disputes about words and their correct meaning.

18. Explain and define any new concept you introduce as well as any word you don't use in its ordinary sense.

19. Ask for the definition of a word or term only in cases where there is a risk of misunderstanding or invalid inference.


20. Avoid voluminous contributions to different topics. Otherwise no topic can be discussed thoroughly.

21. If your contribution nevertheless deals with numerous different topics,strive for an especially clear structure of your text. Start a new section for every new idea.

22. Don't repeat an argument unless somebody did not comprehend or perceive it.

23. If you assert facts name your source.

24. Sometimes it is helpfull to say in advance, which thesis shall be supported or attacked by your argument.


25. Before criticizing anybodys position make sure you understand him correctly. In cases of doubt express his position on trial with your own words e.g.: "If I understand you correctly, you maintain that ...".

26. Don't feel great in refuting positions which nobody has asserted. Don't misunderstand anyone intentionally in order to criticize him easier.

27. Restrict yourself to challenging the truth of a position and put aside all other kinds of criticism e.g.: "... is not new", " ... is not relevant", "... is not interesting", "... is dangerous", "... is banal", "... is boring me", "... is no philosophy at all". The only exception is: "Your contribution lacks any connection with the question to be answered".

28. Criticize positions - not persons and their motives. The better arguments are at stake and not the better people. A blunt argument cannot be compensated by a sharp personal attack. Examine arguments independently of identity and intention of their author, for the truth or falsehood of an argument will quite seldom follow from the traits of a person.

29. Instead of writing: "Your thesis that ... cannot be maintained" you should better write: "The thesis that ... cannot be maintained."


30. Show your readiness to acknowledge sound counter-arguments and to correct your errors.

31. Don't try to enforce your opinion at any price. Correct answering of a question will not be promoted by behaving like a dominant stag.

32. Bear in mind that - due to our limited knowledge - at the end of a discussion there still may exist more than one answer worth being advocated.

Mutual Respect

33. Show respect for the question and the special interest of the one who started the discussion. Nobody prevents you from starting a discussion of your own.

34. If you enter an ongoing discussion, be well informed about the content of the preceding discussion. Otherwise you may cause tedious reiterations.

35. Don't disturb the discussion by contributions containing rather private messages.

36. Don't use the anonymity of the Internet for a behaviour you otherwise would not display.

37. Treat others in the way you want to be treated by them.

38. Contribute to an atmosphere of mutual respect though - or better just because - you participate in a highly controversial debate. Politeness and sharp counter-arguments are not incompatible.


39. Don't argue any longer with someone who doesn't really seek the right answer to the question asked or who doesn't strive for arguments you can understand and share. Give an example of the behaviour you blame.

40. Don't argue any longer with someone who denies your comprehension by uttering sentences such as:
 - "You seem to lack the necessary intelligence to understand what I am saying" or
 - "You cannot accept my arguments, because that would be against your interest" etc.

41. Leave the discussion, if threats or intimidations are used. Give examples.

42. Bring the discussion to an end, when no new arguments are put forward. Sum up the discussion from your point of view - even if its results are meager.


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Ethik-Werkstatt: Ende der Seite "Rules for Discussion" / Letzte Bearbeitung 29.11.2010 Eberhard Wesche

Ethics-Workshop: Rules for Discussion (in English)