Rappaport’s first rule of any constructive dialogue that aims to increase knowledge is:
You should attempt to re-express your interlocutor’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that they say “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way myself.”
Clearly, it’s an extreme version of understand-before-disagree and maybe life’s too short to expect to fully comply, but it puts the emphasis in the right place by shunning rhetorical tricks like straw-men as well as avoiding simple but important misunderstandings. Together with hold-your-definition – where Dennett suggests we don’t get too hung-up on objective definitions too soon in any discourse, since it’s unlikely we’ll interpret and understand them the same way anyway – Dennett’s “Intuition Pumps and Other Thinking Tools” captures Rappaport’s four rules and many more constructive ways of thinking and arguing.
[Note: since this is clearly the opposite of a “straw-man”, it is often called a “steel-man” and the process I call Rappaport’s Rule – after Dennett – can be found referred to as Steelmanning.]
Rappaport in full:
- You should attempt to re-express your interlocutor’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that they say “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way myself.” (A Steelman)
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
There is an aggressive variant of the Steelman – the Strongman – to succinctly summarise (even caricature) your opponent’s position in order to destroy it. If the summary is aimed at being destroyed, it’s really a bad-faith straw-man unless and until you and your interlocutor genuinely agree in good faith.
- Steelman is a strong version of your opponent.
- Strongman is an aggressive version of yourself.
- Steelman is about truth.
- Strongman (like Strawman) is about winning.
[All rules are “for guidance of the wise and the enslavement of fools“.]
[More on Rhetorical Rules of Engagement.]
[More on the rules of humour – The Court Jester.]
— Tom Chivers (@TomChivers) October 5, 2018
Again here, the strongest form is about “winning” arguments, not about truth.
Steel = truth. Strong = win. Nicely done.]