Updated Hierarchy of Disagreement

by Bob Jacobs1 min read28th May 202013 comments

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In 2008 Paul Graham created the Hierarchy of Disagreement.

Then Loudacris had the genius idea to make this hierarchy into an easily shareable picture:

And thus internet debate was rational forever.

I joke, but I do genuinely believe that this image helped the quality of internet-debate in some small way. Even if not many people see it, making these kinds of guides is a net benefit for humanity.

It also made the rounds on LessWrong. Scott Alexander created a related guide and Lukeprog used the critiques of Black Belt Bayesian to expand the hierarchy.

Black Belt Bayesian writes:

If you’re interested in being on the right side of disputes, you will refute your opponents' arguments. But if you're interested in producing truth, you will fix your opponents' arguments for them. To win, you must fight not only the creature you encounter; you [also] must fight the most horrible thing that can be constructed from its corpse.

Which Lukeprog argues should be the top layer called: "Improve the Argument, then Refute Its Central Point"

I don't know about you, but to me this new top layer feels separate from the other layers. This top layer, for one, should probably only be used after you already refuted the existing argument. You don't want your interlocutor to feel like you are either misrepresenting or humiliating him. Improving an argument is still desirable, but don't sour the debate.

But secondly, this layer goes beyond countering your interlocutor and ascends into the realm of active truth seeking. Whereas the other layers are a linear process of knocking down an argument, this new layer is more circular. You can continue on creating and knocking down new versions of the old argument again and again, always gaining new insights but never reaching a perfect conclusion.

Nonetheless, I think this addition is extremely important. It shows people that the purpose of debate is not an adversarial brawl, but ultimately a way to reach truth. The hope is this layer will change peoples mindset into a more curious and cooperative one.

Unfortunately no one has made an easily shareable visualization of this new hierarchy. So I decided to make one myself with two additional updates.

1) I hate it when there is a guide on the internet and I click on it to copy the text, only to realize it is a picture and I have to manually copy all the information while hoping that I don't make any mistakes. I decided to make it a pdf which not only solves this issue but should also make it easier to translate into other languages.

2) As plmbob pointed out on reddit: "[The old visualization] shows you can't have a solid argument without a strong base of name calling". A pyramid might not be the best shape for this guide. I wanted the new version to look more like a staircase, where you are encouraged to climb to the top.

Here it is:

You can find a full size image, a pdf-file and a page-file here. If this doesn't work you can also find it here.

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