This is partly a recommendation on how to format multiple different independent points or replies in any discussion forum, but it's also a post I'm going to use as a link to explain why I'm leaving comments all over the place so that I don't seem as weird/feel self conscious and don't have to explain it each time.

Oftentimes, when someone disagrees or simply wants to comment on something you've said, they'll have multiple independent critiques of it. The standard way I see this handled rhetorically is to quote your relevant material once, and write a long post, mixing those critiques together. Other times, someone will make multiple different points or arguments in favor of a single underlying idea, or even write completely unrelated paragraphs contained in the same post, that are replied to all at once, in quote->response, quote->response, quote->response format. This makes arguments hard to track as layers of->response->counter-response->counter-counter-response start to pile up each iteration of the comment chain.

To remedy this, when I can, I like to split up these independent points into multiple comments. This makes it much easier to follow the chain of argument, and to see which objections or justifications stand on their own, instead of hiding behind each other. It's much easier to see when this is done that someone doesn't reply, or gives up a particular idea. Even when people are correct, often most or all of their individual reasons for believing what they do are flawed, and even when they're incorrect, often the objections others raise are unsound, too. Leaving each argument naked to individual attack makes it easier to see, both for the writer and the commenter, that a paragraph is either silly or the main rhetorical pillar behind an idea or rebuttal.

New to LessWrong?

New Comment
2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:50 PM

Yeah I don't do it for mainly selfish reasons but I agree that there are a lot of benefits to separating arguments into multiple comments in terms of improving readability and structure. Frankly, I commend you for doing it (and I'm particularly amenable to it because I like bullet-points). With that said, here are some reasons you shouldn't take too seriously for why I don't:

Selfish Reasons:

  • It's straightforwardly easier -- I tend to write my comments with a sense of flow. It feels more natural for me to type from start to finish and hit submit once than write and submit multiple things
  • I often use my comments to practice writing/structure and, the more your arguments are divided into different comments, the less structure you need. In some cases, reducing structure is a positive but its not really what I'm going for.
  • When I see several comment notifications on the little bell in the corner of my screen, my immediate reaction is "oh no I messed up" followed by "oh no I have a lot of work to do now." When I realize its all by one person, some of this is relieved but it does cause some stress -- more comments feels like more people even if it isn't

Practical Reasons:

  • If multiple arguments rely on the same context, it allows me to say the context and then say the two arguments following it. If I'm commenting each argument separately, I have to say the context multiple times -- one for each argument relying on it
  • Arguments in general can often have multiple interactions -- so building on one argument might strengthen/weaken my position on a different argument. If I'm splitting each argument into its own comments, then I have to link around to different places to build this
  • When I'm reading an argument, its often because I'm trying to figure out which position on a certain thing is right and I don't want to dig through comments that may serve other purposes (ie top level replies may often include general commentary or explorations of post material that aren't literally arguments). In this context, having to dig through many different kinds of comments to find the arguments is a lot more work than just finding a chain [Epistemic Status: I haven't actually tried this]. This isn't an issue for second-level comments.
  • Similarly, when deciding what position to take, I like some broader unifying discussion of which arguments were right and which were wrong which lead to some conclusion about the position itself. If 3/4 of your arguments made good points and its not a big deal that the fourth was wrong, this should be explored. Similarly, if 1/4 of your arguments made good points but that one is absolutely crucially significant compared to the others, this should be explored as well. If you do a conventional back-and-forth argument, this is a nice way to end the conversation but it becomes more complex if you split your arguments into multiple comments. [Note that in some cases though, its better to make your readers review each argument and think critically for themselves!]

And this is why I think people don't naturally do it this way. Lots of arguments have a "common body" of thought that it gets repetitive to include with each comment. Even when they don't, people tend to just not think of arguments as "graphs" of justifications. They think of them like a serial back and forth of people on a podium giving speeches and engaging in "rhetorical battle", and it's more fun and engaging to write them that way on the internet.