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Thinking Philosophically (Part 1): The Intellectual Code of Conduct
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Thinking Philosophically (Part 1): The Intellectual Code of Conduct

Productive debate is a skill which can be learned and practiced. In a philosophy class I took a while back, we were presented with a “code of intellectual conduct,” but we could just as easily call the listed principles “12 rules for thinking philosophically.” They have stood up well, and by following these rules, (and encouraging others to do so), we can dramatically increase the likelihood of an enjoyable and productive debate, rather than a bitter, emotive one.

Here are the 12 principles:

  1. Fallibility Principle – Each participant in a discussion of a disputed issue should be willing to accept the fact that he or she is fallible, which means that one must acknowledge that one’s own initial view may not be the most defensible position on the question

  2. Truth-Seeking Principle – Each participant should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake. Therefore, one should be willing to examine alternative positions seriously, look for insights in the positions of others, and allow other participants to present arguments for or raise objections to any position held on an issue.

  3. Clarity Principle – The formulations of all positions, defenses, and attacks should be free of any kind of linguistic confusion and clearly separated from other positions and issues.

  4. Burden of Proof Principle – The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the participant who sets forth the position. If and when an opponent asks, the proponent should provide an argument for that position.

  5. Principle of Charity – If a participant’s argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be carefully expressed in its strongest possible version that is consistent with what is believed to be the original intention of the arguer. If there is any question about that intention or about any implicit part of the argument, the arguer should be given the benefit of any doubt in the reformulation, and/or, when possible, given the opportunity to amend it.

  6. Structural Principle – One who argues for or against a position should use an argument that meets the fundamental structural requirements of a well-formed argument. Such an argument does not use reasons that contradict each other, that contradict the conclusion, or that explicitly or implicitly assume the truth of the conclusion. Neither does it draw any invalid deductive inferences.

  7. Relevance Principle – One who presents an argument for or against a position should set forth only reasons whose truth provides some evidence for the truth of the conclusion.

  8. Acceptability Principle – One who presents an argument for or against a position should provide reasons that are likely to be accepted by a mature, rational person and that meet standard criteria of acceptability.

  9. Sufficiency Principle – One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to provide relevant and acceptable reasons of the right kind, that together are sufficient in number and weight to justify the acceptance of the conclusion.

  10. Rebuttal Principle – One who presents an argument for or against a position should include in the argument an effective rebuttal to all anticipated serious criticisms of the argument that may be brought against it or against the position it supports.

  11. Suspension of Judgment Principle – If no position is defended by a good argument, or if two or more positions seem to be defended with equal strength, one should, in most cases, suspend judgment about the issue. If practical considerations seem to require a more immediate decision, one should weigh the relative benefits or harm connected with the consequences of suspending judgment and decide the issue on those grounds.

  12. Resolution Principle – An issue should be considered resolved if the argument for one of the alternative positions is a structurally sound one that uses relevant and acceptable reasons that together provide sufficient grounds to justify the conclusion and that also include an effective rebuttal to all serious criticisms of the argument and/or the position it supports. Unless one can demonstrate that the argument has not met these conditions more successfully than any argument presented for alternative positions, one is obligated to accept its conclusion and consider the matter settled. If the argument is subsequently found by any participants to be flawed in a way that raises new doubts about the merit of the position it supports, one is obligated to reopen the issue for further consideration and resolution.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. People on social media SHOULD really consider reading and internalizing this.
    Good read. Following your blog, now!

    1. Indeed, would probably avoid a lot of unnecessary hard feelings. Glad to hear!

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