Thought Catalog explains how to have a Rational Discussion:


Hat tip Simolean Sense

Category: Philosophy, Psychology, Science

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

30 Responses to “How To Have A Rational Discussion”

  1. keithpiccirillo says:

    Why must logic get in the way of our fallacies ?

  2. Arequipa01 says:

    Likely many here are familiar with the term ‘sophistry’. It is worth reflecting in contrast to the principles asserted in the post’s flowchart. Others might find Habermas’ thoughts on consensus interesting.

    The rhetoric reveals the speaker’s true heart.

    Here’s an Ambrose Bierce quote I came upon:

    “SOPHISTRY, n. The controversial method of an opponent, distinguished from one’s own by superior insincerity and fooling. This method is that of the later Sophists, a Grecian sect of philosophers who began by teaching wisdom, prudence, science, art and, in brief, whatever men ought to know, but lost themselves in a maze of quibbles and a fog of words.

    His bad opponent’s “facts” he sweeps away, And drags his sophistry to light of day; Then swears they’re pushed to madness who resort To falsehood of so desperate a sort. Not so; like sods upon a dead man’s breast, He lies most lightly who the least is pressed. –Polydore Smith”

  3. John Personna says:

    And yet, strangely enough, I can aspire to all these rules while posting anonymously. Who woulda’ thunk.

  4. curbyourrisk says:

    The first person who raised their voice in an open discussion (or debate)…..has lost their argument.

  5. dead hobo says:

    Rational Discussions are for whiners and losers. Before you can have a discussion with someone, you must first find someone with knowledge on the topic, the ability to communicate an interest in communication. and an attention span. Additionally, the person wanting to initiate the discussion must not be a fucking idiot who really wants to shove an opinion down someone’s throat. Then you have to not overestimate the capabilities of the person you are talking to.

    Back in my youth I decided discussions were overrated when some of the people I tried to talk to decided I was a dumbass because I actually tried to have an intelligent conversation with them. Later, I learned that some people have self-images as flunkies who are terrified to think for themselves. Anyone who is approachable and is willing to treat these flunkies as people is considered to be fair game.

    Some sharpies like to ask you to prove every statement and then require you to prove the proof. If you can’t then you are wrong and they win the ‘discussion’. Others like to parse every sentence so that the sentences stand alone and do not form a comprehensive statement. If you take the bait, then you entire statement becomes an odd assortment of unrelated topics and the other person ‘wins’ the discussion.

    Does someone want to have a discussion to trade ideas or do they demand a dialog as a stalling technique. If you ask someone to talk it over, are you really asking them to negotiate or are you so naive that you won’t see them coming as negotiators?

    To me, “Let’s Talk” comes across as “I want to sell you something” with most people.

  6. franklin411 says:

    The point of a discussion is not necessarily to come to a resolution of the issue that all parties can support. One reason to engage in a discussion is to exchange views, to poke at your opponents’ position, and to have them poke at yours. You may not (probably won’t!) ever come to an agreement, but you’ll both profit by having your theories challenged and by challenging the theories of others. At bare minimum, you’ll be better prepared the next time you have a discussion.

  7. Bruman says:

    How fun! I like the spirit of the diagram, but I don’t agree with all of the steps. For example, you may be for or against something for a variety of reasons, and the fact that one reason is shown to be invalid doesn’t necessarily mean that the others aren’t, and it may be that the other reasons are sufficient in and of themselves. So “do not move on to another argument if it is shown that a fact you have relied upon is innacurate” is too constraining.

    “Do not introduce a new argument while another argument has yet to be resolved.” That may also be too constraining. In general, it’s good to stay focused, but you may discover that another point has come up that is more important to switch to. But it is true that people who switch arguments in the “throw all the mud you can at something, and see what sticks” are people I don’t want to have a discussion with. The real problem is that when they own the major broadcast media, the tactic seems devastatingly effective for their cause.

    Finally, just because your argument has a flaw in it doesn’t mean you can never use it again; it does mean you may have to rethink your argument, because not all flaws are fatal. I guess it means that you can’t use the exact same argument ever again, but you might find a way to make a substantially similar argument in its place.

    But thanks for making me think about the argument for arguing! ;-)

    Happy Friday!

  8. bergsten says:

    I was all for the chart until I got to the phrase “more reasonable.” Isn’t that one of the cognitive biases?

    In any event, if these rules were followed, New York would be a very quiet place.

  9. Seaton says:

    Sure seems to me like a lot of competitive, bloviating proselytizing is routinely encountered, “out there.” When it’s routinely discerned that facts are ignored, cherry-picked, or parsed to the old time, “splitting-hairs” approach, I’m out the door, so to speak. True dialogues seem to be just too hard to find, routinely, nowadays. Thankfully, bloggers like Ritholtz are more helpful to me in my economic pursuits. Sophists, nice to see the word & concept again. Mostly, you guys that have commented above are “spot-on”, nicely done. Pity the various t.v. media outlets can’t quite understand nuance, or “oops, out of time! gotta go” cheats. Newspapers aren’t far behind. Thanks again for the concise flow-chart-diagram, quicker than that college course decades ago.

  10. Chart obviously banned from TV newsrooms.

  11. Greg0658 says:

    nice try .. changing the subject from “free market capitalism is the best path to prosperity” meme momo

    it is because its the only game running .. next WW for the jumpstart comin up

  12. zola says:

    It’s missing an item:

    Rule 5: Do not use personal, disparaging language concerning the arguer or the arguments in question

    This is entirely too common. The minute someone says “you’re an idiot, that’s stupid, what an ass” etc etc, it has stopped being a discussion and has become a personal battle of opinions.

    This is true even if your opponent’s beliefs ARE flawed and your opponent actually IS an idiot, because the minute the mud starts being slung, your opponent becomes defensive and stops listening.

  13. VennData says:

    Examples are fun.

    1) Proposition: “Reagan cut taxes”

    2) Analysis of evidence: Well yes he cut them, but raised them on small businesses and working people.

    3) Reply: He made me feel good about myself, and the country

    Now see if you can find where this veered off from being a discussion…

  14. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    I nominate “meme momo” as the phrase of the day.

  15. socaljoe says:

    I agree completely, however item #3 is often impractical when a discussion evolves spontaneously with your buddies while hanging out at the beach, and should not prevent you from sharing your views.

    I also find it useful to keep in mind that there very few absolute facts in the world and that most arguments, mine included, are an expression of opinion subject to your preexisting biases.

    Lastly, I find it useful to recognize that it’s perfectly OK for other people to have an opinion which is different than your own. As a matter of fact, my success as a contrarian investor depends on it.

  16. Alex says:

    Don’t forget! Vilifying your opponent with extreme or emotional (but difficult to define) characteristics is not in keeping with a discussion, such as…

    “Barry, you are a discussion Nazi!”

    Seriously, this list will only make you feel better when dealing with an irrational actor. It will not promote a discussion. It needs to be written with a little less high-handed judgmentalism to work as a negotiation document.

  17. Greg0658 says:

    The Garden Of Allah – Don Henley
    by CursedDiamond .. (*and umm – maybe to heavy – but its just an audio visual) .. winning

  18. econimonium says:

    Opps I guess this leaves out most Republicans, especially if they are economists ;)

  19. Data Room says:

    The chart showing exceptional way how rationale talk goes. Its excellent.

  20. formerlawyer says:

    The original source is found at:

    Does this change anything?

  21. willid3 says:

    and you have to depend on the hope that the person you are having a rational discussion doesn’t depend on not understanding (or being rational) for a living

  22. John Personna says:

    @Alex – “Vilifying your opponent [..] such as … ‘Barry, you are a discussion Nazi!’”

    Or such as “Alex, you are anonymous!”

    (to belabor)

  23. godot10 says:

    Rationality is insufficient.

    i.e. Quantum mechanics is NOT “classically” rational. i.e. Scientific evidence may require one depart from classical logic until an adequate theoretical framework exists to explain logical paradoxes which might arise.

    See also Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

  24. Investradamus says:

    *right-click, save as*

    I will definitely use this in the very near future.

  25. FNG says:


  26. John Personna says:

    FWIW, after reading a few books on modern brain theory (“Descartes Error” is very good) … really cross-reading them with behavioral economics (“Winner’s Curse” of course), I use the words “rational” and “irrational” much differently than I did.

    The old stereotypes of rationality (“Spock”) don’t really work for me. I think now “irrational” as a slur has to mean “unproductively emotional.” And “rational” can come from an emotional place …. which is ok, if it works, but even better when it involves a little introspection, meta-thinking, etc.

  27. budhak0n says:

    Here’s your ultimate problem with this topic. Ultimately, “rational” discussions never once set a policy that ever mattered one iota.

    We like to believe that people in a position of power and influence operate rationally in consideration of all the potential inputs and influences surrounding issues which affect us all but the plain truth is this.

    Despite their multifaceted attempts to appear thorough and conscientious, in the end people operate basically out of the same recurring motivation, if they can get away with it, they will. And the “rational” are those who spend way too much time trying to figure out why everyone else is often so “irrational” when it doesn’t really matter much.

    Oh and are we really STILL talking about Reagan and his effect on somebody’s life? This above all things demonstrates what we need in this day and age.

    America, for lack of a better word, needs a new beginning of sorts. The Old ways must be given all the proper respect that the current crop of influence peddlers afforded to the Nixon administration . There I go again peddling politics in money matters.

    In other words, thanks for your umpteen years of service and insights. In regards to your “holdings” you are entitled to your current status and influence, but as to your opinions of where we go from here. Save it for the book circuit where one may take a few years abroad to draft your own Tocqueville letters.

    Oh and sorry to have used the words “you” and “your” because the previous commentary wasn’t directed at any one person or group but more towards a certain well developed school of thought.

  28. MinnItMan says:

    “Liberal-minded” people would all agree that the rules above are pretty close to these, that education should promote questioning, independent (rational) thinking, etc. 20-25 years ago, I would have put most conservatives into this category, as well, and would have argued that they were more likely to play by these rules than so-called political liberals, at least at the time. It was the heyday of Critical Theory, Critical Legal Theory, etc. Honestly, I didn’t think CritTheory was so much wrong, as it was an ultimately boring one-trick pony. At that time, it was the Crits attacking science (among other things) as a white-male, hierarchical instrument of social power. I get the sense that the Crits are few and far between anymore, not because they lost the argument, but because just as they were getting going, technology enabled more data collection in more areas, faster, better and cheaper than anybody had ever imagined. They weren’t wrong – they were irrelevant in the data-processing world.

    A similar thing happened at the political operational level – multiculturalism, roughly – they were not ready for prime-time and became irrelevant as Yugoslavia broke apart.

    St. Thomas says: “according to Boethius, the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments.”

    In everyday life, however, it’s really the only argument ever presented, and as as practical matter, it is pretty strong. In order to expose it, there has to be a recognition about deeply-submerged assumptions about authority, and that doesn’t happen very often for most people after they are 20 or so.

    Rational discussions are right up there with sex, music, art and miscellaneous peak experiences for me. I wish they were easier to come by.

  29. caerick says:

    Great chart Barry! Thanks…