How To Have A Rational Discussion

This flowchart presents a pretty excellent strategy for having a reasonable, rational discussion (instead of one party ‘lecturing’ or ‘giving a sermon’ to the other). But perhaps it is mere wishful thinking, this diagram; perhaps reasonable discussion is altogether impossible (esp. on the internet), and we only hope in vain to one day live in a world where people are ready and willing to, you know, talk it out reasonably. TC mark



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    This flowchart describes what I've been doing in the comments section of this website for the past two months.

  • eric

    sounds dull

    • jqb

      Only to dullards.

  • chillwave gonzales

    Shared this with my colleagues.

  • RamonaCC

    I am going to print this chart out, laminate it, and carry it around with me to use whenever I talk to anyone about anything.

    • huh

      Everyone will hate you. Good luck with that.

      • Charles

        Nah, just irrational people.

  • josh mosh

    a very brief, single class session spent on this chart before most classes at every grade level would dramatically improve the level of discourse and critical reading in this country.

    • Tiorbinist

      or at least stifle all discourse other than what is approved of by the class/discussion leader.

      I have been in classes where the teacher/professor has declared, as this flow chart does, that if you don't abide by artificial and spurious rules of discourse in the name of rationalism, which are designed, as these are, to prevent opposing viewpoints (or at least control them so that they can't “pollute” the “discussion” while making it seem that they are being listened to.) My response, once I got out of High School, was to drop the class, and oddly, I wasn't alone.

      I fail to see how this flow chart would affect 'critical reading' at all. I certainly can see the effect it would have on critical faculties, since it is a pretty good backbone for a cult.

      Oddly, it is being put forth by people who are notorious for failing to show evidence for their arguments. How, after all, does an atheist provide evidence against the existence of God? Their own disbelief? And this is Rational?

      • Charles

        You seem to have missed the part about the person asserting a position—e.g., god exists— bearing the onus of demonstrating its truth. Did you sleep through logic class?

      • jqb

        Well,Β TIORBINIST, Β you certainly fail the criteria in spades, with all those baseless assertions. And I don’t need evidence against the existence of Odin and Loki to rationally disbelieve in them, any more than you do. And the hypocrisy of your tu quoque argument Β is quite extraordinary … if you proclaim the failure to provide evidence for an argument to be irrational, then you are indicating support for the position you are dismissing … ah, but you condemn lack of evidence from atheists as irrational while exempting yourself. I would summarize this chart as demanding intellectual honesty, a trait you sorely lack.

  • Mr. White

    This is impossible.

  • Lazy...

    Source unknown???
    It took me >5 minutes to source this. is your friend.

    The original can be found at

    • Brandon scott gorrell

      thank you for finding the source for me. preliminary google searches turned up a number of reblogs but all either sourced it from another place or sourced it as unknown. i have not heard of tineye.

      • some guy

        A) sorry for being so hostile, it was an immediate reaction because I'd seen it before and I like when people are credited

        B) thanks for actually changing it, that was a pretty cool thing to do

      • guest

        tineye is a service you can use to find images on the net. I use them to help identify art theft, but it's also useful in locating the original posting of an image in order to credit the owner/creator.

  • David St Bernard

    The first one: can you envision anything that will change your mind?
    I find it to be an odd question, asking whether I can envision any weaknesses in the foundations of my knowledge. It seems a moot point. I can be overly confident in my foundations. Am I misinterpreting this first question, or am I right in saying that it's phrased poorly?

    • Autolycus

      I think the problem is that it is a test of falsification. This limits 'rational discussion' to Popperian sciences.

  • Indigets

    A 9/11 truther could easily use this flow chart to prove that you're an idiot for not thinking 9/11 was an inside job.

    Unemployed people interested in “the issues” can spend 12 hours a day reinforcing their conclusions with all sorts of obscure philosophical treatises. Pay my rent and then I'll dedicate some time to meeting your discussion criteria. Until then I guess you'll just have to be the rational one.

    • Peter Spealman

      So that I might understand you correctly let me rephrase your statement into the implicit claims you seem to be making:

      1) Rational Discussion does not always produce Truth – in part because we the other party may draw upon bad evidence.
      2) Rational Discussion requires Time – in part to produce evidence necessary to engage in that discussion.

      If I understand you right, you seem to be saying that lacking the time to become informed on a matter precludes you from having a Rational Discussion of it – since the other person can trick you or you may lack the necessary to convince them of your point. These are certainly valid concerns!

      However, we all have opinions – all of them are flawed by limited scope of evidence or understanding. If we are honest we have to recognize that these flaws in our opinions means that we can be wrong. Since we can be wrong it is best to keep an open mind about the matter – and this is exactly what Rational Discussion is!

      Not having Time to find all the right evidence means that rarely should be certain that you are right – but also it means that you can't be certain that the other person is entirely right either! Having a Rational Discussion may not produce Truth but it does preserve open minds engaging each other in dialogues.

  • olo

    can we discuss the steps in which to bring about the usage of this discussion chart?

  • Erik Stinson

    achieved a positive outcome when using this method in a meeting with a client

    • Tiorbinist

      Positive for your client? Or just for you? Do you really feel that you had a discussion with your client using this method? If your client is an academic, I suppose I could see it. If he/she/they/it was/were a customer or someone who was paying you, I hope your office is right next door to the one labeled “Ministry of silly walks”

  • loader

    Nice, but your rules for rational discussion kind of suck.

    • Charles

      Yes, irrational people would think these rules suck.

  • Brandon scott gorrell

    surprising/ worrying to see people actually coming out against reason

    • JohnsReates

      Reason is subjective.

    • Tiorbinist

      odd/ bizarre/ inexplicable that you seem to feel that “reason” is identical to “rational”. Maybe there's a reason why there are two words, rather than just one? Nah, couldn't be.

      • jqb

        “reason” and “rationality” are synonymous in the context he used.

  • Gene

    I have several bones to pick, but with the first one: “Can you envision anything will change your mind on the this topic?”

    Let's say you say, “No”, but agree to discuss in the interests of having an open mind and maybe discovering something you -don't already know-.

    Is that not rational?

    • Brandon scott gorrell

      If you say “no” to “can you envision anything that will change your mind on this topic” but then say “i will have an open mind and maybe discover something I don't know” then I don't know how that's any different from actually believing that you are in fact envisioning something that will change your mind on the topic.

      I don't think “changing your mind” necessarily indicates “a complete 180” in terms of a belief. It could also just mean a modification or a number of qualifiers added or subtracted to your belief.

      I think to say “no” to the question “can you envision anything that will change your mind on this topic” but then to say “But I will have an open mind when I'm discussing this with you,” is a basic contradiction which if carried out would probably look like you nodding your head a lot while someone discussed something and basically humoring that person until they were finished stating their points, but not really hearing any of it, definitely not accepting any of it (because you said that there was nothing that would change your point of view, so how could you accept any of it and not change your viewpoint accordingly?).

      I think the expression “to have an open mind” does not indicate some facade of being able to accept the fact that other viewpoints exist or a general idea of tolerance while inside being absolutely unchangeable on belief or worldview… that isn't what “to have an open mind” means.

      The first box in this graph only means to indicate that to have an actual, real discussion where, you know, people understand things at a deeper level, the two parties involved must not hold on to what in essence are arguable facts for any reason other than the idea that the existence of those facts is supported by a flawless line of logic/ evidence. Because why have any sort of logical discussion with anyone if, for example, you actually point out that there is a large gap missing from their explanation of whatever phenomena, but they continue to ignore that and insist, regardless of whatever you might say, that their belief makes sense? How could you continue that discussion? What discussion is there to be had in that situation?

      That situation is like a parent trying to reason with a child that wants a toy way too expensive for the parent to afford. The parent can tell the child that she doesn't have enough money for the toy right now but the child will continue to continue to demand it because it is at this stage in its life much more emotional than reasonable. The parent can do nothing in this situation to quell the child's belief that it needs that toy and so the child will cry and become upset for a couple hours, until it forgets about it.

      This is what talking to a person that is unflinching in their belief about something is like. You can not speak with them rationally. This is why the first box on this graph exists.

      • Autolycus

        Can you envision anything that will persuade you to change your mind on what you think about what Gene said?

        a) If not, how can your answer be part of a reasonable discussion?

        b) If yes, what would it be? Can you envision it?

      • Brandon scott gorrell

        Yes, it would be some alternative/ more lucid interpretation of his original comment

      • Autolycus

        You're talking about properties here. But not actually envisioning anything.

        I would assert that it's not possible to have a rational discussion about how to have one because eventually we'd would reach something axiomatic and nobody would be able to envision anything that would change our minds about it.

      • Brandon scott gorrell

        When someone asks someone else, for example, who their ideal lover would be with “Describe your ideal lover” or “Can you envision what your ideal lover” I think a very traditional/ normal response is to go about describing that person's properties and personality traits, what that person would do, how s/he would act. I think a person rarely says, like, “It's Todd,” or something.

        When one envisions something unknown I think one does not envision the exact specifications of that thing or is able to somehow produce a line by line description of the minute details of that thing but instead can only describe what it might look like and how it might sound or whatever.

        I don't understand how I have not envisioned something but if you think envisioning something unknown is knowing exactly what that unknown thing will be and then describing it exactly (and if that's the way like, everyone would take it – if that's the typical interpretation) then maybe the creator of the flowchart could have used a better verb. But like why even take the time to argue over that? Because I feel like that's very obviously far away from the author's intended point, which was just to say “Are you willing to be proven wrong if some compelling evidence exists?”

        I get the feeling that people harping on this “envision” thing actually understand that what this person means is simply “Are you willing to be proven wrong if some compelling evidence exists?” but despite that they are so abstractly offended by the rigidity and haughtiness of the rules – and maybe the fact that they approach “rational discussion” a different way – that they are just trying to find some simple/ irrelevant point to contest it (semantics in this case) and/ore are deliberately misinterpreting it to make it appear as if the entire idea behind this argument is objectively wrong, “impossible,” or “bad.”

        I can envision something changing my mind on these points. If for example it was shown that a number of people genuinely interpreted “envision” as “knowing exactly which facts or arguments would prove my argument wrong” I would most likely think that I had misjudged what I thought was “obvious” and probably believe that the creator of the flowchart should not have used the word “envision” and that an argument about semantics was an important and fruitful one to have in this case.

      • Autolycus

        I think that the argument goes beyond mere semantics; it is really about whether we are to be falsificationists a la Popper or verificationists. The flowchart, however, starts by essentially asking, “Can you think of a way to falsify your stand?” and is thus susceptible to the same arguments that persuaded Popper to adjust the strict falsification rule he initially imposed.

        In your case, you would 'envision' or describe your falsification method by assigning properties (e.g. different, more lucid). But each time you add another property, you would be modifying your initial stand. The only way to successfully 'envision anything that will change your mind on this topic' is to state what it is, completely (no omissions, no amendments).

        This works for simple things. Example: are all roses pink? Envision: a rose of any colour not pink. Only two properties are relevant: rose/not-rose and pink/not-pink.

        But alternative/more lucid is subject to your interpretation. What is more lucid to you is not necessarily more lucid objectively. This is likely true of attempting to envision or describe the mind-changing thing in a complex topic. It would bog down in nuance.

        My conclusion is that the flowchart is indeed useful in many situations, but not all. I would prefer 'how to have a civilised discussion', with behavioral criteria such as 'will avoid using language any party claims is insulting'. I note that 'this is how rational human beings exchange ideas' is itself debatable, as is the concept of exchanging ideas, rigorously considered.

      • Brandon scott gorrell

        I see what you are saying regarding alternative/ more lucid. I'm a bit lost regarding Popper and the rose analogy, but that's OK. I feel like I can't say anymore because I'm sort of confused but I think that's also OK. I would need to spend time understanding Popper and his philosophy and I can't really do that right now. I concede that the flowchart's rules for rational discussion are difficult to abide by.

      • Lookoverhere1

        Popper didn't think that only statements that could be falsified were rational. He thought that only statements that could be falsified were scientific. That is a big difference.

  • Michael

    change “you” to we and reference “I” to we and I think you come even more closer to the intent of this – otherwise you position yourself in the same position as the one you are setting rules for.

  • RK

    A less arrogant and snarky version might be a useful framework. As it is? It looks like something you found on an angry atheist's web site. ;-)

    (Cue half a hundred dudes howling/spitting at their monitors, “I'M NOT ANGRY!!!!!”)

    • I Squish Thee

      i'm not angry (and not a dude, last time i checked), and the flowchart actually works both ways. I felt kinda chastened to realize that I'm as stubborn as a religious person and would probably not get past step one.

  • Chris Watson

    Who would want to have a discussion of any sort with the pedantic twerp that drew up that chart. I bet he works for academia or the government. Nothing rational about being a control freak.

    • Bmonster McCarthy

      Dumb, just dumb. If that's what you call a control freak, never, ever meet my sister.

    • jqb

      I would, but I have little interest in a discussion with an ignoramus like yourself, Chris.

  • Stephen M

    The first point is flawed. What if I knew I was 100% right and thought you were wrong about a subject. For example, I argue that within in closed environment without outside stimulus the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy will increase and you say that within that situation the Easter bunny can allow for entropy to decrease. Then I would honestly say to the first point that 'no, nothing you will say will change my mind on this matter' so by stipulating this as a starting point it gives the person with the misguided and wrong answer (i.e. the easter bunny believer) a get-out clause which allows them never to have a discussion about their views and therefore continue to believe they are right.

    • J. Izurieta

      You're not open to new evidence that the 2nd law of thermodynamics is wrong, or isn't universal at all points within open systems? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but I'm open to hearing that evidence.

      • Litesp33d

        It was Carl Sagan who put forward the idea that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

        It sounds great but I take issue with it.Β  Why should an extraordinary claim require extraordinary evidence.Β  Why shouldn’t extraordinary claims requireΒ  just ordinary evidence.

        And for example I put forward the following claim.Β  Jesus was born of a Virgin.Β  An extraordinary claim.Β  But where is your ordinary evidence that Jesus even existed at all rather than just a mythical man.

      • jqb

        Whoosh! Of course extraordinary claims require ordinary evidence, but they require extraordinary evidence too. Only ordinary evidence is needed that Jesus existed, but extraordinary evidence is required that he was divine or born of a virgin because that contradicts so many other observations.

      • jqb

        I’m not open to “new evidence” that there are a finite number of primes or that some bachelors are married … some claims are analytically true.

  • Da Vane

    The provision of evidence needs to be stuck off, unless all parties involved are prepared to have a rational discussion about what is and isn't acceptable evidence. Reason and rational argument doesn't require evidence – it requires logic. This argument that you do not need evidence is the stance taken by people who believe that there IS an objective reality about subjective issues, where either anything can be classed as evidence, or evidence is unnecessary. Failure here means that the person demanding evidence is failing to meet the basic principles of reasonable and rational discussion themselves (that is, one of the first three questions in the flowchart end up being answered no, indicating that this is not a discussion by the person seeking to impose said rules). In short, the demand for evidence, which breaks what is basically point 7, in itself causes a break in points 1-3. Need evidence of this? I refer you to the entire branch of study known as Epistemology – the science of knowledge.

    • Peter Spealman

      I would disagree. Since all parties perform this agreement of acceptable evidence in the first place. This must be done if for no other reason then to agree upon which system of logic or which system of epistemology the parties are going to use as a baseline for their discussion.

      And this really is a matter which requires agreement as there are many systems, of both logic and epistemology, which produce “common sense” answers inside of certain constraints but which break from each other under other conditions. Thus, all discussion already includes acceptable evidence – though what that is is left to the participants.

  • Noon

    I actually have an issue with point 2. If I am discussing something with you, and you show me that an argument or supporting fact I am relying on is false or wrong, I will rethink it, and fix the problem, but I think it would be a mistake to drop it, and try to completely disavow it. For example, if I am a Roman Catholic, and it is shown to me that Roman Catholicism is wrong, this does not mean I should instantly assume that there is no God. There are still many Christian denominations, and if the bible were a complete fabrication, there are all the non-Christian churches. Then, once someone shows me convincingly (assuming they did) that there really was nothing like a God, that doesn't imply that I shouldn't live any of the ten commandments. Showing me an argument is wrong means the argument needs to be reexamined, and the middle of a discussion is not the right place to do that.

    • Peter Spealman

      I think your reading of the word 'argument' may be inaccurate. In your example the Roman Catholic could be shown (somehow) that Roman Catholicism is wrong – in the sense of this document then the argument correlates to the discussion over Roman Catholicism.

      To conflate the argument of Roman Catholicism with the argument of God is incorrect as actually these are two different arguments and each would require their own discussion.

  • 45Slade

    I enjoy a discussion, even a heated one, with someone with whom I share a desire to arrive at some truth that we agree on. I don't enjoy a discussion with someone who regards the activity as a competition to prove themselves right at any cost. I can tell the difference by their response to facts or ideas that appear to contradict their position.

    While this flow chart is interesting, it does not allow for the flow of ideas and the often fragmentary nature of the communication that attends a really good discussion.

    • jqb

      Yes it does.

  • Brent Garland

    I think every member of Congress should get a copy of this flowchart every morning when they get to work.

  • navi

    It depends. Two people can decide they are not trying to change each other's mind, and discuss their opinions. One point does not have to be proven right, or correct, especially considering not everything is right or wrong. There are benefits and drawbacks, to everything, and to different people. Many things described as “fact,” are actually “perception.” I've had conversations where I've said I support abc because of xyz, and the other person has expressed they support def, because of ghi. That is still a discussion. You are learning more about each other, rather than trying to convince each other.

    • jqb

      Why should anyone care about your opinions? Why give the reasons for your opinions if they can’t change the other person’s mind? In a discussion, one generally wants to learn from someone, not about them, unless this is an intimate, rather than “rational”, discussion.

      • Wallly

        You can learn from someone without changing your opinion. You could even supplement your own position with an increased understanding of another point of view. Are peoples’Β  intentions in engaging soley an attempt to convince each other of the legitimacy of their argument?

  • Rafael Torrens

    Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.

    • guest

      No it's not.

      : )

      • Rafael Torrens

        It is!

      • guest

        It most certainly is not!

      • Nigelx

        Is this the 5 minute argument or the full half hour?

  • Josh McCallister

    Let's have an open, equal, and rational discussion but first you must agree to comply to a list of demands or I won't talk to you.

    • jqb

      Yes, so? You imply that there’s something wrong with that but give no reason to think so, whereas it is quite obvious that some demands, like not blowing smoke in one’s face, shouting obscenities, injecting random insults, and so on are quite reasonable. One can debate whether all the demands in the above chart are reasonable, but you didn’t do that, you just used sarcasm … not a very good way to have a discussion.

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