I recently stumbled upon this article: How to Train Yourself to Be a More Rational Thinker, by Mark Hutson. I immediately started drafting this blog post, but I discovered that Hutson’s piece has so much excellent advice that summarizing it here would become an act of copying. Rather than do this, I just recommend you follow the link and read it for yourself, gentle reader. There is just one bit that I will quote verbatim, to whet your appetite. It comes from one of the more provocative and interesting thinkers I have encountered, Daniel Dennett, and it is quoted here from the Hutson article:
Psychologist Anatol Rapoport diverted people from straw-man arguments for their own good. Daniel Dennett summarized Rapoport’s advice in his own book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking:
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
- 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.
Not only will you conscript a more willing accomplice in your search for truth, but the exercise in itself will help you extract valuable material from the other side’s beliefs.