Monday, March 31, 2008

How to Disagree

A good post on 'How to Disagree' from Paul Graham. Given the recent meme about response etiquette, it seems to have come at an opportune time. I'm also pleased to note that he reinforces my argument about expertise in his section on Ad Hominems:

Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem—and a particularly useless sort, because good ideas often come from outsiders. The question is whether the author is correct or not. If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those out. And if it didn't, it's not a problem.
Shameless plugging aside, the piece is worth the read. It has advice that I'll try to keep in mind as I argue with Sean on the List, in my tags, and in response posts I make here. His heirarchy of disagreement also highlights the reason why I don't tend to comment on posts, no matter how much I might disagree with them: it's hard.
The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It's also the rarest, because it's the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.
To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a "smoking gun," a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it's mistaken. If you can't find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.
I like actually responding to the merits of a piece, usually at some length, which take quite a bit of preparation. As a result, more often than not, I break a cardinal rule of blogging: just post already! Of course, that's why I'm also excited about this piece.

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