In “How to Argue With Kindness and Care: 4 Rules from Philosopher Daniel Dennett” (Open Culture, 19 Jun 2019), Josh Jones writes:”
Like their classical predecessors, these rules directly tie careful, generous listening to sound argumentation. We cannot say we have understood an argument unless we’ve actually heard its nuances, can summarize it for others, and can grant its merits and concede it strengths. Only then, writes Dennett, are we equipped to compose a “successful critical commentary” of another’s position. Dennett outlines the process in four steps:
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. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
Here we have a strategy that pays dividends, if undertaken in the right spirit. By showing that we understand an opponent’s positions “as well as they do,” writes Dennett, and that we can participate in a shared ethos by finding points of agreement, we have earned the respect of a “receptive audience.” Alienating people will end an argument before it even begins, when they turn their backs and walk away rather than subject themselves to obtuseness and abuse.