The concept of "logical rudeness" (which I'm pretty sure I first found here, HT) is one that I should write more about, one of these days. One develops a sense of the flow of discourse, the give and take of argument. It's possible to do things that completely derail that flow of discourse without shouting or swearing. These may not be considered offenses against politeness, as our so-called "civilization" defines that term. But they are offenses against the cooperative exchange of arguments, or even the rules of engagement with the loyal opposition. They are logically rude.
Suppose, for example, that you're defending X by appealing to Y, and when I seem to be making headway on arguing against Y, you suddenly switch (without having made any concessions) to arguing that it doesn't matter if ~Y because Z still supports X; and when I seem to be making headway on arguing against Z, you suddenly switch to saying that it doesn't matter if ~Z because Y still supports X. This is an example from an actual conversation, with X = "It's okay for me to claim that I'm going to build AGI in five years yet not put any effort into Friendly AI", Y = "All AIs are automatically ethical", and Z = "Friendly AI is clearly too hard since SIAI hasn't solved it yet".
Even if you never scream or shout, this kind of behavior is rather frustrating for the one who has to talk to you. If we are ever to perform the nigh-impossible task of actually updating on the evidence, we ought to acknowledge when we take a hit; the loyal opposition has earned that much from us, surely, even if we haven't yet conceded. If the one is reluctant to take a single hit, let them further defend the point. Swapping in a new argument? That's frustrating. Swapping back and forth? That's downright logically rude, even if you never raise your voice or interrupt.
The key metaphor is flow. Consider the notion of "semantic stopsigns", words that halt thought. A stop sign is something that happens within the flow of traffic. Swapping back and forth between arguments might seem merely frustrating, or rude, if you take the arguments at face value - if you stay on the object level. If you jump back a level of abstraction and try to sense the flow of traffic, and imagine what sort of traffic signal this corresponds to... well, you wouldn't want to run into a traffic signal like that.
Another form of argumentus interruptus is when the other suddenly weakens their claim, without acknowledging the weakening as a concession. Say, you start out by making very strong claims about a God that answers prayers; but when pressed, you retreat back to talking about an impersonal beauty of the universe, without admitting that anything's changed. If you equivocated back and forth between the two definitions, you would be committing an outright logical fallacy - but even if you don't do so, sticking out your neck, and then quickly withdrawing it before anyone can chop it off, is frustrating; it lures someone into writing careful refutations which you then dance back from with a smile; it is logically rude. In the traffic metaphor, it's like offering someone a green light that turns yellow after half a second and leads into a dead end.
So, for example, I'm frustrated if I deal with someone who starts out by making vigorous, contestable, argument-worthy claims implying that the Singularity Institute's mission is unnecessary, impossible, futile, or misguided, and then tries to dance back by saying, "But I still think that what you're doing has a 10% chance of being necessary, which is enough to justify funding your project." Okay, but I'm not arguing with you because I'm worried about my funding getting chopped off, I'm arguing with you because I don't think that 10% is the right number. You said something that was worth arguing with, and then responded by disengaging when I pressed the point; and if I go on contesting the 10% figure, you are somewhat injured, and repeat that you think that what I'm doing is important. And not only is the 10% number still worth contesting, but you originally seemed to be coming on a bit more strongly than that, before you named a weaker-sounding number... It might not be an outright logical fallacy - not until you equivocate between strong claims and weak defenses in the course of the same argument - but it still feels a little frustrating over on the receiving end.
I try not to do this myself. I can't say that arguing with me will always be an enjoyable experience, but I at least endeavor not to be logically rude to the loyal opposition. I stick my neck out so that it can be chopped off if I'm wrong, and when I stick my neck out it stays stuck out, and if I have to withdraw it I'll do so as a visible concession. I may parry - and because I'm human, I may even parry when I shouldn't - but I at least endeavor not to dodge. Where I plant my standard, I have sent an invitation to capture that banner; and I'll stand by that invitation. It's hard enough to count up the balance of arguments without adding fancy dance footwork on top of that.
An awful lot of how people fail at changing their mind seems to have something to do with changing the subject. It might be difficult to point to an outright logical fallacy, but if we have community standards on logical rudeness, we may be able to organize our cognitive traffic a bit less frustratingly.
Added: Checking my notes reminds me to include offering a non-true rejection as a form of logical rudeness. This is where you offer up a reason that isn't really your most important reason, so that, if it's defeated, you'll just switch to something else (which still won't be your most important reason). This is a distinct form of failure from switching Y->Z->Y, but it's also frustrating to deal with; not a logical fallacy outright, but a form of logical rudeness. If someone else is going to the trouble to argue with you, then you should offer up your most important reason for rejection first - something that will make a serious dent in your rejection, if cast down - so that they aren't wasting their time.
Basically it comes down to a measure of the degree to which the other person cares about what you are saying. What Eliezer puts as "sticking his neck out", I would describe more specifically as "listening carefully to the other person". In this way I would connect 'logical rudeness' with plain old manners.
To put it another way, while the person is talking, are you thinking about what they are saying, or preparing your response? I try to be generous in this way, and most of the people in my life respond well to it. But then I'm choosy about who I spend time with.
It works best with my wife. We've been communicating this way for years and years now, and it's just a wonderful experience to have a conversation in which both people are giving the other exclusive attention.
The other thing my wife and I do really well is give each other space to think. When we're done talking we stop talking and wait for the other person to have their say. Since she was paying careful attention while I was talking, she might not have something to say right away. So we have to give each other that time. Not many people are comfortable with silence.
In the old days we used to use ice cream as an inverse semaphore; the listener held the pint and the spoon, and ate and listened while the talker talked. Then the talker took the ice cream and had to shut up until the other person asked for it.
This is awesome. I would be tempted to shut up earlier than I usually would just for the reward of getting some ice cream. :)
So the only thing we need to improve online discourse is a way to instantly deliver ice cream over the internet...
I fear this is something we'll have to live with. I've won many, many arguments by whittling down the opponent's position until there is nothing substantive left of it. At this point, the only thing I can do that will mess everything up is... to press them on this, and force them to acknowledge their 'defeat'. Because defeat is how they will perceive it, and will fight back ferociously. You might 'break' some of them into a completely new way of thinking, but most likely you will simply undo all your hard work up till then.
Much better to just let them leave with their dignity intact, and with hopefully a better understanding that will precolate through their worldviews and come out a few weeks later in their own words. Think of it as... leaving them a line of retreat.
The trouble is, if people don't experience the feeling of defeat, they don't tend to undergo proper relinquishment, and will revert back to the indefensible stronger position in time.
This is only an argument for pressing for defeat where it might actually work.
I've found that they will revert a bit - but not as far as back to the original position, unless there are social attractors pulling them there (political parties or religion). Over time, their position does shift, if similar themes are argued several times. And once or twice, I've seen people ernestly arguing to me the exact position I was trying to convince them of two months before...
This seems to be a variation on my pet peeve of people simply ignoring their opponents' arguments and walking away (virtually) from a debate. I guess you're seeing this version more often because of your higher status, and/or because you debate people more in real life, so your opponents can't afford to just act as if they didn't hear what you said, or as if your arguments aren't worth responding to.
I sometimes don't reply to counters to my arguments because I genuinely think they're good and I'm not sure what to say next. Empty comments are discouraged here, and it feels like saying "you could be right, I need to think about this more" would be one such.
If the LessWrong codebase were easier to hack on (it's that PostgreSQL-related bug that stops me from doing so) I'd add a facility so that comments could have a little sidebar that says "ciphergoth and Wei_Dai liked this".
That it most certainly isn't! It indicates Progress. There is nothing the least bit empty about it!
It often happens to me that someone sees me stopped and staring into space thinking as a result of what they say, and conclude that what they said was a really strong argument for their position, where what's actually happening is that they've revealed such a depth of confusion that I'm briefly lost looking where to start unpicking it.
If it matters to anyone, I have a policy of upvoting all mind-changes.
I would really REALLY like to see more people editing their top comment in a thread to indicate their mind-change AND what in particular made them update.
Given the machinery we use for them is geared more for winning fights than for generating correct beliefs, it's frankly amazing that arguments manage to change any minds at all.
I wonder how effective strategies for careful discourse without any obvious conflict - where essentially the other party doesn't recognize that an argument is taking place - might be.
The more private a debate, the more likely people will be generous enough for this to happen; the more public, the more hostile they will be. Hostility is a status-grab, and people in arguments (including this forum) reward it if they think the grabber deserving. Similarly, generosity is low-status, and people who are generous in public debates have very little to gain. Publicly failing in the quantity necessary to maximize your learning growth is very low-status and not many people have the stomach for it.
EDIT: Being low-status also makes it much easier for people to stop responding to your arguments, as "That's not worthy of a response" is much more believable from the higher-status arguer when the status difference is high.
When the pecking order is well-defined, we like to see it, but in a neck-and-neck competition, generosity is interpreted as deferral.
Giving someone status on a non-content channel will let you get away with murder on the content channel.
A good way to begin an argument is by asking questions about the other person's position, to get it nailed down.
I love this technique. It's fun to use on missionaries - I got a couple Mormons a while ago and was able to chatter excitedly about how I'd got this tenet and that article down because of other correspondences, but now they were here, and I'd heard missionaries had special knowledge of these things, and maybe they could clear up one or two points of confusion? It turns out that the best way to get rid of missionaries is to be sincerely sorry to see them go.
I should probably remember to do more Socratic debating in friendly debates with incoming novices - never make a statement yourself if you can ask a question that will get the other person to make it.
Many years ago, before the web, when email lists and bulletin boards were the cutting edge of the Internet and dinosaurs ruled the earth...
I was on a certain mailing list, and there was one member who, on being pressed to admit having been wrong about something or other, asserted that it was a deliberate policy of his to never do any such thing. That did not mean that he never changed his mind as a result of argument. But (he said) if he did, he would simply cease to assert the view he now thought was mistaken, and after some suitable lapse of time, advocate the view he now thought was correct, as if it had been his view all along.
I am undecided about whether this counts as logical rudeness.
In some cultures, like that of my mother's, it is extremely rude to press a person to capitulation. It is expected that people should parry in such a way that neither person loses face. In such contexts, talking in circles, softening the argument and changing the line of the argument -- by either party -- can be signs that one person has already conceded. It's not only polite to save the face of the person 'losing' the argument, it is polite to spare the 'winner' from the embarrassment of causing any loss of face. To the extent that if someone ever abruptly concedes an argument in a face-to-face encounter, I assume that they belong to this culture, and I will rewind the argument to see how I offended them -- usually by pressing my argument too hard or too directly.
My father, on the other hand, thought that a touch-down dance must be done on the corpse of every argument, to make sure that it is never resurrected. To not do so would weaken the argument. And I think this is a common American view -- that if you are difficult to throw down and hold down, then your opponent's argument needs to be stronger.
The member of your e-mail list had a third view, which I think is defensible in its contrast to these two extremes.
Other people are different.
Speaking for myself, I find it very unpleasant to be on the receiving end of crowing. Hence I have a much easier time admitting mistakes to people I particularly trust not to crow. (One of the nice things about LW is that there isn't much crowing here, which makes mind-changing and fessing up easier. I'd definitely like to keep it that way.)
There's a really easy trick for conceding a debate without being crowed at. The trick is to admit that you were wrong, concisely explain the change you've made to your beliefs, and warmly thank the other person for taking the time to help you become correct about this. Even if they were a bit of a dick in the debate itself. Don't declare defeat; declare a mutual victory of truth.
Anybody who can crow about your defeat after that is a huge asshole, and furthermore this should be obvious to anybody watching.
(This trick also makes you feel better about changing your mind, because you've reclassified it as a victory. I've had a much easier time conceding debates ever since I adopted this habit and mindset.)
Apologies if this is injecting too much mind-killing, but I really started taking notice of this type argument-gymnastics last year about the "Cash for Clunkers" program.
"This program is great! It will get money to the struggling auto-makers."
"Wouldn't it be more efficient to just give them money like we did before? And what if it just goes to the strong auto-makers?"
"Well, maybe. But think about the environmental benefit of all those old cars off the road!"
"Wouldn't it be more efficient to just spend the money ... (read more)
IIRC, John Searle uses a subtle form of this in his rebuttal to rebuttals to his Chinese Room argument. He separates the attacks into different cases; then he uses one set of assumptions and definitions to rebut one case; then switches (without pointing it out) to a different set of assumptions and definitions to rebut another case. Neither set of assumptions and definitions is sufficient to rebut both cases.
I was in a discussion with a man at a yoga studio after he overheard me telling someone that Bikram's Yoga was "kind of cultish".
He proceeded to make one illogical argument after another, and then smiling and laughing confidently as though in triumph after each one. When I shot down what he said or explained how he misunderstood a comparison, he would not acknowledge or think about what I said, but simply move on to the next "winning comment" that he wanted to say. He thought he was superior for having made his points even though my rep... (read more)
Unfortunately it is usually rude not to allow people their logical rudeness and from what I can see it is expected that talent with this footwork, as you describe it, will be deferred to with respect.
For my part I tend to cut off engagement with those who persist with such logical rudeness but that option would be less appealing if the subject was something that really mattered to me. For example my life's mission and the very future of the universe. Sometimes bullshit just needs to be called, even if it breaks the flow and the illusion of good faith.
The Logical Rudeness (and a little bit of Plain Rudeness — generally a somewhat angry and mocking tone) were strong in someone I was recently debating about the desirability of indefinitely long lifespans.
They make an argument. I offer a counterargument. This may go back and forth a few times, but in the end, they would usually then switch to another argument without acknowledging my last counterargument at all. And then, later, they'd often switch back to the same point they made before and refused to acknowledge my counterargument to it, as though I had ... (read more)
I was thinking of adding "withdraw" as an option (Abort/retry/fail? Concede/refute/withdraw?), which would be like pleading no contest in a trial: it would say "I don't necessarily accept your argument, but I won't contest it for now". You'd be stating your intention to act as though you had conceded it, with the caveat that you still don't believe it's correct. I can see some advantages of this — it might be appropriate in cases where a point is relatively minor to the subject of the debate, when it's not worth getting into something too deeply if there isn't already agreement — but on the other hand, we probably shouldn't have a norm that allows people to get out of changing their minds too easily. Any thoughts on this? Perhaps the standard should just be that if you don't expect you'll care to continue supporting a given argument after you've made it and heard possible counterarguments, you shouldn't use it in the first place.
I agree with you about the norm for this community, but I'm surprised you didn't include Suber's class of examples: 'refutations' by analyzing criticism as behavior instead of argument. (PaulWright pointed this out.) It seems like a clear and familiar set of examples.
On another subject, I'm thinking that there's another occasional source of logical rudeness: arguments 'to make people think'. This generally takes the form of dancing back, simply because a proponent suggesting arguments they do not believe for a position that they do not hold feels no compunction when violating their burdens of going forward.
Anyone who says "I was only trying to make you think" is not worth another second of your attention.
Devil's advocacy is declared in advance.
The underlying issue is what we take the purpose of debate or discussion to be. Here we consider discourse to be prior to justified belief; the intent is to reveal the reasonable views to hold, and then update our beliefs.
If there is a desire to justify some specific belief as an end in itself, then the rules of logical politeness are null; they have no meaning to you as you're not looking to find truth, per se, but to defend an existing position. You have to admit that you could in principle be wrong, and that is a step that, by observation, most people d... (read more)
I see this sort of thing often. Often rather than simply swapping back and forth, someone will go through a long chain of switches, going from arguing for A, to arguing for B, then for C, then for D, and then finally going back to A, and forgetting that we ever discussed it in the first place. In fact if you analyze the torture / dust speck discussion you will see that many people did this very thing.
Could you please describe in general terms what notes for a post like this look like?
I used to do this quite often. Usually in personal conversations rather than online, because I would get caught up in trying to win. I didn't really notice I was doing it until I heard someone grumbling about such behavior and realized I was among the guilty. Now I try to catch myself before retreating, and make sure to acknowledge the point.
So not much to add, other than the encouraging observation that people can occasionally improve their behavior by reading this sort of stuff.
Added to post: Offering a non-true rejection is also logically rude.
Does intent matter? It would seem that there are some cases where offering a non-true rejection is more analogous to being confused than being rude.
I agree, obviously, that often offering a non-true rejection is rudeness. But 'true rejections' are sometimes hard to really nail down.
which I'm pretty sure I first found here, HT
Glad you liked it.
Suber seems to concentrate on tactics where one person avoids responding to the argument by making some statement about the arguer ("you're saying that because of your hopeless confirmation bias!") That sort of rudeness is a potential problem if someone has a belief which includes explanations of why other people don't believe it. I'm not sure what to do to about that, since I certainly have such beliefs. As far as I can make out, if I want to avoid being rude, I end up having to resp... (read more)
The Parable of the Pawnbroker discusses a form of logical rudeness. I'm afraid I no longer remember which Less Wrong person directed me to that article!
When people sense the weaknes of their position, they often dance the argument to a different question so they can "win".
I often want to say "hey, can you give me the win on this one?"
This post about sums up my history debating intellectual property on the Mises blog.
NSK: [New post] Hahaha! Look at this recent event! This CLEARLY shows how horribly destructive intellectual property is, by its very nature!
me: But, look at all this evidence and theory about how it still makes us all better off, on net.
NSK: pfft! Only utilitarians care about that kind of thing!
The argumentative technique you cite -- arguing X on the basis of Y, Y is defeated, switch to arguing X based on Z, Z is defeated, switch back to Y -- looks like an example of what I call position dancing.
Would you agree that there seems to be a large overlap between "logical rudeness" and rhetorical deception?
Isn't this just simply equivocating?
(Edit) Upon further reading of the link you provided... This is pretty typical behavior from the masses. And, it is a form of irrational dancing where they just tend to be so opaque in their responses that they make no sense.
In the post you (Eliezer) made about the "click" (or people just "Getting" it), the conversation he recalled where a woman was discussing "magic" was one which usually involves this sort of logical rudeness (except in the case Eliezer recounted, the woman was rational en... (read more)
That's a kind of problem that I witness regularly when I argue with someone, and it is indeed very frustrating (and I've to admit that in the "heat" of debate, it happens to me to commit it too, not the Y->Z->Y but the Y->Z without conceding a local defeat, and I usually only realize I did it afterwards, and then I feel bad... but I'm working on it).
Like other very valid points you posted on other articles (taboo, semantic stopsigns, ...) it's very interesting to know them, they help a lot to understand "what went wrong" in a d... (read more)
While discussing hypothetical situations or speculating towards the reasoning behind some rule or behavior, my fiancée will sometimes put forward an idea with an obvious flaw in it. I will point out this flaw with the expectation of her correcting it to improve the idea, but instead she will respond with "Well, what do you think, then?" Often I don't have a hypothesis of my own, and will admit it, but she seems to think that it's unacceptable of me to criticize an argument if I don't have a better one to replace it. In general, am I being logically rude by pointing out that an idea is illogical if I don't have a replacement to offer, or is it acceptable to say, "I don't know, but I know THAT's wrong"?
Wow. This generated a lot of comments really quickly. Well, it's an intriguing post and I like the kind of self-description of your attitude towards arguments. Anyone who has spent a lot of time arguing understands that the mechanisms of discursive exchange are crucial for achieving a valuable discussion. Sadly, it's very hard to deal with people who don't understand this. I've had friends who just hated to disagree about anything.
Interestingly, the sort of thing that irritates you, such as making concessions, are very useful for getting somebody to argue ... (read more)
I cannot parse this sentence.
This is a common tactic and it has more to do with people defending their beliefs than with any attempt to get to the truth of a matter. But are you doing any different if you keep engaging these people and complaining about their tactics? If getting to the truth is important to you, then arguing with people who do this isn't going to help; maybe you're actually just defending your beliefs too, rather than arguing with someone who will help you toward the truth.
You can't resolve only to argue with neo-rationalists and abandon the 99.99999% of the population who are either not rationalists or are Traditional Rationalists; this will effectively protect you from most counter-arguments and is a move towards the cult attractor. I think that erring on the side of arguing often will help you get to the truth.
As I understand it, logical rudeness is entirely a defensive system. This may be because it is being used to preserve status. As such, a satire-style argument should be immune to it. If you can advocate support for a more extreme position, or unpalatable consequences of their own position, then they can cheerfully gain status while being the aggressor, and they might not mind so much if it turns out they're fighting their own position. Of course, it can't be too obvious what you're doing.
It helps if you can point to a specific person that actually holds t... (read more)
Sorry I am not sure you were really asking for or need my input but here it is.
If you intend to stick out your neck then maybe you have given me permission to suggest that negotiation of a meaningful reality/connection acceptable to ones self and the other could be just as daring and perhaps of similar ultimate utility as argument and debate. I don't really know if this works but it seems to me that the people I like I "serve" understand that "I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,"
Negotiation in this context is from the b... (read more)
Watch this video of Richard Dawkins debating a creationist and take a drink every time she says "So what I would go back to..."
When Dawkins starts trying to psychoanalyze his opponent he really starts to look like the one being logically rude. At this point he has lost the high ground in the argument. He might be right about his diagnosis about her "emotional agenda", but since he asked where she studied science, shouldn't she be equally entitled to ask him where he studied clinical psychology?
This video is a good example of logical rudeness, but not only from one of the participants.
It seems to me that Dawkins is the first to shift the "argument", when he asks "Where did you study science"; and yet again when he brings up the "emotional agenda".
This isn't to defend the creationist's blabbering, just saying - sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Sorry I am not sure you were really asking for or need my input but here it is.
If you intend to stick out your neck then maybe you have given me permission to suggest that negotiation of a meaningful reality/connection acceptable to ones self and the other could be just as daring and perhaps of similar ultimate utility as argument and debate. I don't really know if this works but it seems to me that the people I like to "serve" understand that "I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,"
Negotiation in this context is from the bo... (read more)