We recently stumbled upon this short post by Maria Popova (“How to criticize with kindness”) explaining philosopher Daniel Dennett’s “four rules” of fair-minded, scholarly criticism. In brief, before you begin to refute or criticize someone else’s ideas, you should do three things first:
- 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.”
- List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- Mention anything you have learned from your target.
- [Criticize all you want now.]
In the alternative, here is a much more crisp and concise “Twitter-style” version of these same rules, courtesy of “agmaster” via reddit:
- Ensure understanding.
- Express info gained.
- Note points agreed with.
- if needed Criticize.
Another small world! I am a part-Dennett fan myself. I say “part” because I have picked up works by Dennett that seem to be more concerned with other-philosopher-putdown (the reason I don’t read much philosophy) than advancing a new way of thinking. “The Mind’s I” was the highlight of Dennett’s work, for me.
Me too. I really like Dennett’s metaphor of “skyhooks” to (ahem!) criticize arguments that rely on miracles or supernatural beings.
To the point of the article, I could condense the four steps to three words: Listen. Be nice.
(PS – why is there a one-word verb for listen, but not a one-word verb for being nice?)
Yes, that really sums it up. What about academia? In the aggregate, are scholars too nice, or not nice enough?