Daniel Dennett’s four rules

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. List any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. Mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. [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:

  1. Ensure understanding.
  2. Express info gained.
  3. Note points agreed with.
  4. if needed Criticize.

Thanks Dr Dennett!


About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
This entry was posted in Academia, Bayesian Reasoning, Cooperation, Philosophy, Truth. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Daniel Dennett’s four rules

  1. 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.

  2. 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?)

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