Constructive Arguments

Very good and much-needed coverage with plenty of good contributors of “how to argue better”, well presented by Timandra Harkness in 5 x 15 minute BBC R4 sessions. [Dead linknow available via Timandra’s own web pages at SoundCloud.]

(Note – I have pages of “rules of engagement”)

Ep1 – For me, not agreeing does not equal disagreement, simply incomplete dialogue and understanding, more to do or more compromise before acting on decisions based on incomplete agreement. That’s life. We all have to act on incomplete agreement (and understanding) but still care about others.
Even though much of the content of the program is about listening and understanding, seeing the other person’s point of view etc, the language keeps coming back to the meme of debate and critical thinking, attack-defend / win-lose / point-scoring. The very template of debate encourages this binary myth – debating courses, set-piece IAI debates, etc. Too much disagreement as conflict (which is actually topic of Ep2).

Ep2 – Zero-sum conflict resolution. Much the same issues as Ep1 – need for dialogue to increase understanding of opposing view, and the eventual (imperfect) resolutions either through power and authority or through democracy. But we need to be careful, especially in social governance, that democracy happens with selection of decision-makers on temporary timescales, but not treating every decision as a vote. (Disappointed not to hear mention of Mary Parker-Follett in the context of genuine conflicts that require mediation and arbitration to resolve. Again the trick is “integration” of opposing interests, rather than choosing between or compromising either. Constructive argument really is a creative process, creating more than the zero sum brought to the table.)

Ep3 – disagreement on  factual truth. (To come)
Ep4 – disagreement on moral vision and principles. (To come)
Ep5 – recognising subjective needs and biases. (To come)

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