In light of several discussions that got out of hand, I'm pretty much just going to cut and paste this entire blog post:http://lesswrong.com/lw/85h/better_disagreement/
Now that most communication is remote rather than face-to-face, people are comfortable disagreeing more often. How, then, can we disagree well? If the goal is intellectual progress, those who disagree should aim not for name-calling but for honest counterargument.
To be more specific, we might use a disagreement hierarchy. Below is the hierarchy proposed by Paul Graham (with DH7 added by Black Belt Bayesian).
DH0: Name-Calling. The lowest form of disagreement, this ranges from "u r fag!!!" to "He’s just a troll" to "The author is a self-important dilettante."
DH1: Ad Hominem. An ad hominem ('against the man') argument won’t refute the original claim, but it might at least be relevant. If a senator says we should raise the salary of senators, you might reply: "Of course he’d say that; he’s a senator." That might be relevant, but it doesn’t refute the original claim: "If there’s something wrong with the senator’s argument, you should say what it is; and if there isn’t, what difference does it make that he’s a senator?"
DH2: Responding to Tone. At this level we actually respond to the writing rather than the writer, but we're responding to tone rather than substance. For example: "It’s terrible how flippantly the author dimisses theology."
DH3: Contradiction. Graham writes: "In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is simply to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence." For example: "It’s terrible how flippantly the author dismisses theology. Theology is a legitimate inquiry into truth."
DH4: Counterargument. Finally, a form of disagreement that might persuade! Counterargument is "contradiction plus reasoning and/or evidence." Still, counterargument is often directed at a minor point, or turns out to be an example of two people talking past each other, as in the parable about a tree falling in the forest.
DH5: Refutation. In refutation, you quote (or paraphrase) a precise claim or argument by the author and explain why the claim is false, or why the argument doesn’t work. With refutation, you're sure to engage exactly what the author said, and offer a direct counterargument with evidence and reason.
DH6: Refuting the Central Point. Graham writes: "The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone’s central point." A refutation of the central point may look like this: "The author’s central point appears to be X. For example, he writes 'blah blah blah.' He also writes 'blah blah.' But this is wrong, because (1) argument one, (2) argument two, and (3) argument three."
DH7: Improve the Argument, then Refute Its Central Point. 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."
Having names for biases and fallacies can help us notice and correct them, and having labels for different kinds of disagreement can help us zoom in on the parts of a disagreement that matter.
This won't fix what's already been broken, and this probably won't stop all the flare-ups we have, but at least we have some sort of framework when things start getting out of hand.