A Code of Conduct for Effective Rational Discussion

The Fallibility Principle

When alternative positions on any disputed issue are under review, each participant in the discussion should acknowledge that possibly none of the positions presented is deserving of acceptance and that, at best, only one of them is true or the most defensible position. Therefore, it is possible that thorough examination of the issue will reveal that one’s own initial position is a false or indefensible one.

The Truth-Seeking Principle

Each participant should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake. Therefore, one should be willing to examine alternative positions seriously, look for insights in the positions of others, and allow other participants to present arguments for or raise objections to any position held with regard to any disputed issue.

The Clarity Principle

The formulations of all positions, defences, and attacks should be free of any kind of linguistic confusion and clearly separated from other positions and issues.

The Burden of Proof Principle

The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the participant who sets forth the position. If and when an opponent asks, the proponent should provide an argument for that position.

The Principle of Charity

If a participant’s argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be expressed in the strongest possible version that is consistent with the original intention of the arguer. If there is any question about that intention or about implicit parts of the argument, the arguer should be given the benefit of any doubt in the reformulation.

The Relevance Principle

One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to set forth only reasons that are directly related to the merit of the position at issue.

The Acceptability Principle

One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to use reasons that are mutually acceptable to the participants and that meet standard criteria of acceptability.

The Sufficiency Principle

One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to provide reasons that are sufficient in number, kind, and weight to support the acceptance of the conclusion

The Rebuttal Principle

One who presents an argument for or against a position should attempt to provide an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument or the position it supports and to the strongest argument on the other side of the issue.

The Resolution Principle

An issue should be considered resolved if the proponent for one of the alternative positions successfully defends that position by presenting an argument that uses relevant and acceptable premises that together provide sufficient grounds to support the conclusion and provides an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument or position at issue. Unless one can demonstrate that these conditions have not been met, one should accept the conclusion of the successful argument and consider the issue, for all practical purposes, to be settled. In the absence of a successful argument for any of the alternative positions, one is obligated to accept the position that is supported by the best of the good arguments presented.

The Suspension of Judgement Principle

If no position comes close to being successfully defended, or if two or more positions seem to be defended with equal strength, one should, in most cases, suspend judgment about the issue. If practical considerations seem to require an immediate decision, one should weigh the relative risks of gain or loss connected with the consequences of suspending judgment and decide the issue on those grounds.

The Reconsideration Principle

If a successful or at least good argument for a position is subsequently found by any participant to be flawed in a way that raises new doubts about the merit of that position, one is obligated to reopen the issue for further consideration and resolution.

From: Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments” by T. Edward Damer (Amazon .co.uk/ .com )

Fleck’s Addendum


See also:  How to Compose a Successful Critical Commentary

24 Comments A Code of Conduct for Effective Rational Discussion

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  4. JeannieF

    Has anyone tried acupuncture? My doctor recommended it but I’m really nervous about it.

    Any tips? Any dangers I should know about?


  5. Jonathan

    Hi Jeanie,

    As far as I know its at worst harmless (as long as they use sterilised needles) but has some apparent benefits, especially for pain relief.

    1. logictillian

      I am sorry to correct you, Jonathan. Acupuncture at worst is certainly very harmful. http://whatstheharm.net/acupuncture.html. Really, you should say that acupuncture at its best is harmless. Acupuncture is essentially an exotic placebo. “Real acupuncture” (based on ancient myths) is no more effective (or even less effective) than “fake acupuncture” (electrical shocks, “misplaced needles”, etc.). Granted, pain relief from placebo is still pain relief, lets not attribute it to acupuncture. Please, browse the recent literature on the issue in a few credible journals.
      All the best!

      1. froggy57

        I visited your recommended site concerning acupuncture.
        It is full of references to acupuncture being misused or
        inaccurately prescribed.
        It has little or nothing to do with the efficacy of the
        modality when it is used properly.
        It is arrogant of you to suggest that you know more
        than the medical doctors who use it.
        It is a craft that is thousands of years old and has been used effectively for thousands of years.
        I suspect that your rice bowl is derived from a trade that
        feels threatened by acupuncture.
        No intelligent person with reasoning powers above that of
        a chimp could go to that site and not laugh at it.

        1. froggy57

          Acupuncture Use in the United States

          The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being “widely” practiced—by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners—for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year. Between the 2002 and 2007 NHIS, acupuncture use among adults increased by three-tenths of 1 percent (approximately 1 million people).

          Acupuncture Side Effects and Risks

          The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners, requiring that needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards. For example, the FDA requires that needles be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

          Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA, in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. Still, complications have resulted from inadequate sterilization of needles and from improper delivery of treatments. Practitioners should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package for each patient and should swab treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting needles. When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including infections and punctured organs.

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