How to disagree without being disagreeable

Simply follow this pyramid. Arguments on the top of the pyramid will be taken seriously. Comments on the bottom of the pyramid will be ignored and/or deleted. Now you know.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

16 thoughts on “How to disagree without being disagreeable

  1. Just curious, is appeal to authority the opposite of ad hominem? My rhetorical skills are rusty, if I even have any.

  2. Is quoting a prophet a logical fallacy? It is certainly an “appeal to authority”, but somehow seems different. All authorities are not created equal.

  3. Craig, quoting a prophet on something that is not relevant to the argument is a logical fallacy. For example, if you are discussing gun control and the person says, “well, President Hinckley said we should all love each other, and if you own a gun you are filled with hate,” that is definitely a logical fallacy. But if the subject is relevant an appeal to apostolic authority is definitely NOT a fallacy. Apostolic authority is central to most discussions of issues within the Church.

  4. Well, it is until it isn’t. Many doctrinal arguments center on apostolic quotes. These may or may not be taken in context. Sometimes it’s an issue of “my apostle can beat up your apostle.” How authoritative is a century old quote, compared to a recent one that disagrees?
    We still can have an appeal to authority fallacy while quoting Brigham Young on Adam/God, or Joseph Fielding Smith on seer stones.
    Safer (but not always) are things canonized or as an official proclamation. With continuing revelation and new scientific knowledge, previous statements must be measured.

  5. Since I couldn’t actually read anything on the tiny image in the OP, here is the text of the pyramid:

    If one is to disagree, the most appropriate thing to do is:

    1) Explicitly refute the central point.

    A reasonable facsimile of explicitly refuting the central point is to:

    2) Identify the mistake and explain why it is a mistake using quotes from the text.

    Potentially useful discussion is counterargument:

    3) State your counterargument, then back it up with reasoning and/or supporting evidence.

    Hot air begins with just disagreeing:

    4) State your counterargument with little or no reasoning or supporting evidence.

    Worse is when the disagreement is not even with the point being made:

    5) Criticize the tone of the writing without addressing the substance of the argument.

    The we begin to approach name calling:

    6) Ad hominem, which attacks the characteristics or authority of the writer, without addressing the substance of the argument.


    7) Straight name-calling, “sounds something like, ‘you are an ass-hat.'”

  6. Book, no. There have been lots of disagreeable comments in the history of this blog. My pet peeves are complaints about “tone” or comments that insult the writer without ever addressing the point of the person’s post. This pyramid points out that when somebody writes something you disagree with you should discuss the point the writer makes. Refute the point the writer makes, and you are in safe territory.

    Meg, see my answer to Book above.

  7. I think it is a valuable post for all people. Too many discussions quickly jump to ad hominem and other attacks, rather than seeking a true dialogue.
    I would hope John can find a better copy of the diagram to place in the op, as it is a useful tool that isn’t very useful in its present low quality.

  8. Loved Bookslingers “@Geoff, Is it I?”

    So appropriate for an anniversary of the Holy week.

  9. A little light humor makes all argument smoother and less likely to turn vicious. I dug Bookslinger’s line, too.

  10. One of the most ironic category of comments (one that Geoff has noted and responded to as well) is where the commenter accuses the author (or another commenter) of being judgemental, and doesn’t realize that they are being judgemental themselves in making that accusation.

    Usually at M* those cases are where the original poster/commenter was, at worst, judging actions and words, not the person. Actions and words must almost always be judged, if for no other reason than that the observer must decide/judge whether to emulate or avoid those actions/words, or whether to promulgate, or suppress, or ignore them.

    I’m easily influenced, perhaps over-sensitive, in regards to some things. To me, a speaker’s/writer’s tone affects whether I take them seriously and how much trust to place in them.

    Public speaking/writing (ie blogging) may just as rightfully be commented upon under the same freedom of speech afforded the first speaker/writer, with one big caveat: publishers (in our case: blog owners) are under no obligation to give a platform to those they disagree with (or anyone for that matter). Critics must either play by the publisher’s rules, or find their own platform.

    Tone, spirit, and Spirit all have emotional/psychological effects. The quality, presence or absence of those three may/can be totally unrelated to the truth of the message. IOW, the medium, the delivery, and the style of delivery are all part of the received message.

    No one wants to be served excrement on fine china with shiny silver utensils. But neither will the food be taken entirely seriously if expensive haute cuisine is served on paper plates with plastic sporks.

    The pyramid says “criticizes the tone of the writing without addressing the substance of the argument.” I agree that that’s not a good thing. If the critic dislikes the tone of the piece, but agrees with the thesis, he should still acknowledge the latter. And, if he disagrees with the thesis, mere dislike of the tone is not sufficient to dismiss the thesis.

  11. Tone definitely matters, especially when discussing the views of other Latter Day Saints in a public forum. If the tone of someone’s writings resembles the “War on Christmas” segments of Fox News, then it’s wise to ask “Is this person likely to revise their opinion in light of a well-reasoned, substantive counterargument?” Usually no, in which case a reasonable approach is to simply vouch for the goodness of good people who are maligned in the piece.

  12. Dan Ellsworth, you can of course do whatever you want, but I think you will find that if you don’t agree with a piece, you best course is to: A)directly take on the primary argument made in the OP B)use counter-arguments as refutation and then C)mention tone as a minor point. Speaking as somebody active in the social media world, I can say that when somebody brings up tone first and concentrates only on “tone” I simply ignore their comments (or delete them).

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