Had to capture this one.
— Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland) September 5, 2016
Been drafting a piece on Robert Frost’s quote for some time now:
“Good Fences Make Good Neighbours.“
However I have, in fact, used Robert Frost’s quote in so many contexts recently that maybe the actual post is now redundant.
The essence of the Frost quote is that agreed boundaries are valuable, say between science and philosophy or between rationality and religion, but more generally in “agreeing” working definitions for pragmatic modelling reasons. Too often a naive participant one one side or the other will want to insist on a hard and fast dividing line, and/or one that draws line to their maximum apparent advantage.
The Chesterton quote is about wanting to remove a “fence” – or any other institutional structure – because you don’t understand (nor agree) with it’s existence. The point being it must be maintained until the one side understands why the other has it there. I see no reason, is no reason.
“There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
Actually very closely related to Dennett’s “hold your definition” and “Rappaport’s rule” too. In constructive debate it is better (more honest) to accept that you may each be using different working definitions (working understandings) of a concept; declare what they are by all means to help the dialogue, but do not attempt to “agree” or “impose” them as definitive – constraining the dialogue – until after the diaogue itself has reached mutually constructive progress. Late-binding definitions. Rappaport’s rule is an extreme variant which says, don’t even raise negative criticisms of your interlocutor’s position (apparent argument, definitions, meanings and understandings) until they are able to thank you for re-stating their own position better that they themselves. Something to aspire to at least.
Also published on Medium.